What Happens to the Health of Latinos When They Migrate to Oregon

Jun 23, 2014

It's called the Latino Paradox. It's what happens to the health of Latinos after they migrate from Mexico and other Latin American countries to Oregon.  KLCC's Jacob Lewin has the latest in our ongoing series on health disparities amongst Latinos:

An ironic thing happens to immigrants when they come from relatively resource-poor Central American countries to the resource-rich U.S, according to Alberto Moreno of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition:

"First generation immigrants in Oregon are healthier than their white counterparts and eventually what happens is, the longer we're here, the longer we're in Oregon, the longer we're in the U.S., the more our health deteriorates. That is known as the Latino paradox."

After just five years in the U.S., Latino immigrants are more likely to have high blood pressure and be obese. The Centers for Disease Control says 73% of Mexican-Americans and other Mexicans in the U.S. are overweight compared to 60% of the rest of us.  Health disparities are worse here because the state has not fully adapted to the rapid demographic change. Moreno says immigrants ate differently before coming here:

"We don't have as much access to processed meats, to processed foods, so that the food we eat includes vegetables, fruits, things like beans and rice which, while they're associated with poor communities, they're also very healthy for us."

Second generation Latinos are less healthy than their parents had been.  Moreno says Latinos are disproportionately targeted with junk food ads....

(sound of Kool-Aid ad in Spanish)

....Kool-Aid has aimed the majority of its marketing budget at hispanics.  Moreno carries with him a photo of the front of a tiendita, a typical small Latino grocery store on Portland's Alberta Street:

"Their window is fully plastered in tobacco advertisements, in alcohol advertisements."

The cancer rate among Latinos is 25% higher than the general population.  In Mexico, smoking by women is extremely rare.  Less so here.  There are higher rates of diabetes and accidents and death from injury. The General Accounting Office says farm work is the most dangerous occupation in the U.S. There are also more behavioral health and substance abuse problems among young Latinos.  Roberto Jimenez,  Director of the Farmworkers Housing Development Corporation, says parenting was different in Mexico:

"Aunts and uncles, cousins, older cousins were around all the time. These families don't have extended families.  It's a husband and wife.  It is a nuclear family and there's no one else there."

U-of-O research shows that 80% of Latino adults in Oregon are immigrants while 85% of Oregon Latino children are U.S.-born. The kids americanize faster than the parents, causing cultural conflict.  Let's visit a new apartment at the Farmworkers Housing complex in Woodburn....

(knocking sound, buenos días, pásale)

...These apartments were designed to not have carpeting.  Jimenez cites research showing pesticide residue can be tracked in and retained in carpeting:

"There were really clear health impacts on seniors who might have compromised immune systems, and infants who might be crawling on those carpets and breathing those pesticides in really quickly."

In Marion County, the health department has created the Healthy Corner Store initiative.  Using a grant from Kaiser Permanente, the county has provided education, infrastructure such as refrigerators, and marketing displays to eight participating stores.  In farm country between Woodburn and Gervais, Elizabeth Montano has been making changes at her Come N Go Market:

"We offer bananas, orange, we offer yogurt, or a mango. We offer fresh burritos. But what we did is diminish some items on the shelves and brought new items, like some items with lower sodium, less heavy syrup."

Montano says the new healthy items--even the soy and spinach burritos--have been popular and profitable.

(Watering sounds)

A Huerto de la Familia gardening class at Gamebird Park.
Credit Jacob Lewin

Newly planted tomatillos, chiles, and onions are being watered at Gamebird Park in Springfield where Huerto de la Familia manages a community garden and provides classes:

(Spanish language and digging sounds)

Huerto's Sarah Cantril says the group's four community garden sites in Eugene-Springfield help Latinos grow food that is too expensive to buy or hard to find:

"The program offers families some instruction about how to grow in this climate. Many families have experience growing in their home country, but not in the United States. And we also are able to subsidize garden plots for families and offer some seeds and plants."

Cantril says the gardens are healthy for participants in more ways than one:

"They'll say that their favorite thing in the garden is harvesting and their second favorite thing is distracting them from their worries."

Cantril notes that Latinos have the highest rate of food insecurity in Oregon.