REPORT: When Immigrants Naturalize May Determine Health Outcomes In Later Life

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Lee

The age at which immigrants become citizens in the United States may determine their health outcomes, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The study found that immigrants who complete the naturalization process to become citizens within ten years of their arrival have better health in older age than immigrants who don’t become citizens. Older immigrants who naturalized at middle and older ages, however, have worse health compared to noncitizens, who tended to be younger.

The author concluded that part of the reason that younger, naturalized citizens had better health than noncitizens is because they had greater access to health coverage at an earlier age. That factor helped to protect them from poor health in later life. But older immigrants had poorer health outcomes because they were subject to obstacles like having to pay for expensive, private health insurance, not having accumulated enough resources for retirement, and having to undergo a five-year waiting period to access Medicaid. What’s more, undocumented immigrants who arrived after the age of 50 may “experience health problems but lack health insurance,” an issue that could “result in worse health outcomes and higher accumulated costs of health care later.”

Latinos are one of the groups whose health outcomes may be most compromised since they also make up the majority of the immigrant population. At least 78 percent of Mexican-American women are either overweight or obese, a fact that contributes to Latino Americans being 1.2 times more likely to be obese than non-Latino whites. Latinos are also disproportionately at risk for diabetes and stroke.

One of the reasons that Latinos are at greater risk for poor health is that major supermarket chains have long abandoned densely populated, minority communities (i.e., Detroit, Los Angeles, and Newark), leaving those individuals to live in “food deserts.”