Many immigrants come to the United States seeking better opportunities and brighter futures for themselves and their children, but some immigrant groups are experiencing poorer health as a trade-off. Research found that the longer an immigrant lives and acculturates in the U.S., the higher their risk of obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. For many Latino immigrants who arrive in the U.S. with healthy eating habits, the acculturation process causes them to abandon these habits in exchange for negative American norms. This dietary shift is linked to two factors.
An increased exposure to unhealthy food advertising on television is a likely contributor to poor diet among Latino youth. According to a 2010 survey, 84 percent of Spanish language TV food ads and 73 percent of English language food ads promote unhealthy foods. Food and beverage companies will continue to target Latinos as their population and market-share increases. As a recent report illustrates, Latino media spending jumped from $2.8 billion in 2003 to $7.9 billion in 2012.
Another factor that contributes to poor dietary habits is socioeconomic status, and one in four Latinos is considered poor with an income below $23,238 per year. Poverty is associated with poor health outcomes and living in neighborhoods with limited access to healthier food options like fresh fruits and vegetables. In order to combat the effects of poverty on poor eating choices, Latinos need to have healthy food options available in their neighborhoods.
While it’s difficult to compete with food advertising, the public health community has launched several initiatives to encourage healthy eating, and many of these programs include components that target the Latino population. For example, the “We Can!” campaign, aimed at enhancing children’s health, created a series of PSAs about healthy eating in both Spanish and English.
Laws and policies can help promote healthy eating habits by creating incentives for healthy food providers to set up shop in low-income neighborhoods. For example, local governments can use financial and zoning incentives to encourage grocers to enter food deserts with healthy eating options such as fresh produce, beans and lean proteins. These types of efforts will help amend the socioeconomic effects associated with living in neighborhoods that have limited access to healthy foods.
The health issues of Latino immigrants have a major impact on health expenditures in this country. With the proper legal and policy interventions, Latino immigrants can truly live the brighter future they seek.
This guest blog post was prepared by Wandaly Fernández, Public Health Law Clinic student at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, home of the Network for Public Health Law’s Eastern Region.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this post do not represent those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.