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Journal Issue: Immigrant Children Volume 21 Number 1 Spring 2011

The Physical and Psychological Well-Being of Immigrant Children
Krista M. Perreira India J. Ornelas

Summary

Poor childhood health contributes to lower socioeconomic status in adulthood. Subsequently, low socioeconomic status among parents contributes to poor childhood health outcomes in the next generation. This cycle can be particularly pernicious for vulnerable and low-income minority populations, including many children of immigrants. And because of the rapid growth in the numbers of immigrant children, this cycle also has implications for the nation as a whole. By promoting the physical well-being and emotional health of children of immigrants, health professionals and policy makers can ultimately improve the long-term economic prospects of the next generation.

Despite their poorer socioeconomic circumstances and the stress associated with migration and acculturation, foreign-born children who immigrate to the United States typically have lower mortality and morbidity risks than U.S. children born to immigrant parents. Over time, however, and across generations, the health advantage of immigrant children fades. For example, researchers have found that the share of adolescents who are overweight or obese, a key indicator of physical health, is lowest for foreign-born youth, but these shares grow larger for each generation and increase rapidly as youth transition into adulthood.

Access to health care substantially influences the physical and emotional health status of immigrant children. Less likely to have health insurance and regular access to medical care services than nonimmigrants, immigrant parents delay or forgo needed care for their children. When children finally receive care, it is often in the emergency room after an urgent condition has developed.

To better promote the health of children of immigrants, health researchers and reformers must improve their understanding of the unique experiences of immigrant children; increase access to medical care and the capacity of providers to work with multilingual and multicultural populations; and continue to improve the availability and affordability of health insurance for all Americans.