Is the United States Good for Immigrants Health?

Acculturation, the process of adopting the cultural norms and values of the dominate or local personages, is a necessary step for people that migrate to the United States. But, how much adjustment is needed to achieve the desired fit? How much should a person leave behind and what should they keep as their ethnic identity?

Recently, acculturation has come to light to assist in the study of the health of different ethnic groups in the United States.  Some studies on cultural adaptation and health, suggest that immigrant groups, like Asians and Latinos, ate better diets in their country of origin then when they migrated to the United States. Specifically, research proposes that when these nonnative groups come to the States and adopt our eating habits and consume our quality of foods, their diets decrease in nutritional value resulting in increased rates of cancer, infant mortality, and other signs of poor bodily health. However, most of the studies done on the health effects of moving to this country have only been done on people from Asian or Latin countries, little work has been done with people from Africa that migrate to this country.

Dr. Kristie Lancaster, a Professor of Nutrition at New York University and a registered dietitian, currently is collecting data to understand the differences between what Ghanians eat in their home land and what they consume once they move to the United States. Also, she hopes to identify the eating patterns in Africa that are healthy, and promote those habits in the African American community. Though the study is not complete she does believe that Ghanians are effected nutritionally when they move to this country. People from Ghana consume a diet centered around a stew served with a small portion of meat and yams. Furthermore, this region of Africa boils and bakes most of their foods, and though oil is prevalent in the stews the fat does not compare to the amount the average American eats at a single meal. According to the website, which created the African Heritage Diet Pyramid, African rooted eating habits consists of a large amount of whole, fresh, and colorful fruits and vegetables, especially thick green foliage and tubers like sweet potatoes and yams, a variety of different beans, peanuts, rice, cornmeal, healthy oils, eggs, fish, poultry, and yogurt with minimal ingestion of red meat and sweets. The problems that arise in the African communities once they relocate to the US lie in the lack of familiar foods and accessibility to grocery stores that sell unprocessed, nutrimental foods.

Understanding the multifaceted components of acculturation and the resulting health problems of the nonnative population helps identify the underlying reasons for the high rates of morbid diseases surrounding the US population and betters our health as a whole. The increased awareness and comprehension of the role of adaptation in immigrant’s behaviors, well-being, and health-care assists public health officials in implementing guidelines that promote healthy eating habits, improve birth outcomes, reduce the amount of alcohol and illicit drug use, and ensure that newcomers to this country settle in efficiently and contentedly.