Is the United States Bad for Children’s Health? Risk and Resilience among Young Children of Immigrants
Nearly one-fourth of the children in the United States under the age of 18 have at least one immigrant parent, a reality that has implications for their well-being in light of a body of research that consistently finds differences in health and health risks between the children of immigrants and those of the native born.
It is difficult, however, to accurately characterize the health of children of immigrants across their extremely diverse backgrounds and circumstances. New data on the health of young children of immigrants have become available over the past decade, including the Early Childhood Longitudinal Surveys and the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. The research emerging from these data-collection efforts paints a considerably more nuanced picture, some of it suggesting that the health advantages observed among children of immigrants during infancy erode in early childhood.
This report summarizes the research, focusing on the largest and most vulnerable group of children in the United States today: the children of Mexican immigrants (who in 2011 accounted for 39 percent of the 18.7 million children of immigrants). Children of immigrants have healthy starts to life, including lower-than-expected infant mortality rates and fewer instances of low birth weight. In early and middle childhood, however, they no longer have a comparative health advantage over children of natives.
The report finds that the children of Mexican immigrants tend to experience greater childhood health risks than most other children. For example, although fewer children of Mexican immigrants suffer from asthma, those with asthma are at greater risk because of limited access to treatment. Additionally, moving to the United States appears to increase the risk of obesity among Mexican children of immigrants.
The report also documents how Mexican immigrant families with children face several challenges that are likely to contribute to physical health problems. These include limited English proficiency, low socioeconomic status, high levels of food insecurity, unauthorized legal status, and, in some cases, unwelcoming climates of reception in communities that have not traditionally been destinations for immigrants.
II. The Importance of Childhood Health and Health Disparities
III. Health among Children of Immigrants: A Mix of Resilience and Risk
IV. Children of Mexican Immigrants: Cause for Concern
C. Explaining the Poor Health Outcomes of Children of Mexican Immigrants