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Immigrant obesity and unhealthy assimilation: Alternative estimates of convergence or divergence, 1995-2005


  • Park, Julie
  • Myers, Dowell
  • Kao, Dennis
  • Min, SeongHee


We re-examine the pace of rising obesity among Hispanic immigrants and the effects associated with longer duration in the US, or what is referred to as unhealthy assimilation, the convergence of immigrant health to a less healthy native-born standard. Consistent with previous research, we find that across all race-ethnic groups, immigrants tend to be less obese than native-born persons. Second, obesity is clearly on the rise, with obesity rates increasing for both immigrant and native-born populations between 1995 and 2005. However, our findings are that immigrant obesity rises more slowly than for native-born Hispanics in the same age cohort. The significance is that immigrants do not converge to obesity prevalence of the native-born as commonly assumed and, in fact, the differential is wider in 2005 than it was in 1995. The analysis, which is based on the National Health Interview Survey tracks the obesity rates of different cohort populations observed in repeated cross-sections (1995 and 2005), as both immigrants and the native-born grow older and additionally, as immigrants reside in the U.S. longer. More specifically, for immigrants, our study distinguishes the effects of length of U.S. residence (observed at a single point in time) and increasing duration of residence (observed over time). Of crucial importance, we contrast the changes over time for native and foreign-born residents passing through the same age range from 1995 to 2005. Misconclusions of previous research stem from 1) assuming that any change for immigrants equates to assimilation, without regard to native-born change, and 2) an unbalanced analysis that fails to track in parallel the growing obesity of both immigrant and native-born cohorts.

Suggested Citation

  • Park, Julie & Myers, Dowell & Kao, Dennis & Min, SeongHee, 2009. "Immigrant obesity and unhealthy assimilation: Alternative estimates of convergence or divergence, 1995-2005," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 1625-1633, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:69:y:2009:i:11:p:1625-1633

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Borjas, George J, 1985. "Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(4), pages 463-489, October.
    2. Heather Antecol & Kelly Bedard, 2006. "Unhealthy assimilation: Why do immigrants converge to American health status levels?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 43(2), pages 337-360, May.
    3. James P. Smith, 2003. "Assimilation across the Latino Generations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 315-319, May.
    4. Gordon-Larsen, Penny & Harris, Kathleen Mullan & Ward, Dianne S. & Popkin, Barry M., 2003. "Acculturation and overweight-related behaviors among Hispanic immigrants to the US: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(11), pages 2023-2034, December.
    5. Borjas, George J, 1995. "Assimilation and Changes in Cohort Quality Revisited: What Happened to Immigrant Earnings in the 1980s?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 201-245, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cheah, Charissa S.L. & Van Hook, Jennifer, 2012. "Chinese and Korean immigrants’ early life deprivation: An important factor for child feeding practices and children’s body weight in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(5), pages 744-752.
    2. Van Hook, Jennifer & Baker, Elizabeth & Altman, Claire E. & Frisco, Michelle L., 2012. "Canaries in a coalmine: Immigration and overweight among Mexican-origin children in the US and Mexico," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 125-134.
    3. Johanna Catherine Maclean & Douglas Webber & Jody L. Sindelar, 2018. "Immigration and Access to Fringe Benefits: Evidence from the Tobacco Use Supplements," Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(2), pages 235-259, April.
    4. Sukanya Basu & Michael A. Insler, 2018. "The Body Mass Index Assimilation of US Immigrants: Do Diet and Exercise Contribute?," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 44(3), pages 337-363, June.
    5. Susan Averett & Laura Argys & Jennifer Kohn, 2012. "Immigration, obesity and labor market outcomes in the UK," IZA Journal of Migration and Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 1(1), pages 1-19, December.
    6. Ullmann, S. Heidi & Goldman, Noreen & Pebley, Anne R., 2013. "Contextual factors and weight change over time: A comparison between U.S. Hispanics and other population sub-groups," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 40-48.


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