Mexico–United States Migration and the Prevalence of Obesity

A Transnational Perspective

Published in: Archives of Internal Medicine, v. 172, no. 22, Dec. 2012, p. 1760-1762

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Karen Rocío Flórez, Tamara Dubowitz, Naomi Saito, Guilherme Borges, Joshua Breslau

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Research Question

  1. How does the prevalence of obesity among Mexican Americans compare with that among the general population of Mexico?

This study compared the prevalence of obesity among US-born Mexican Americans relative to their first-generation Mexican immigrant counterparts. The study used data from epidemiological surveys in Mexico (the Mexican National Comorbidity Survey [MNCS]) and the United States (the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (N=3244 respondents). The results revealed that the gap between first-generation immigrants and the US-born is one part of a graded increase in obesity associated with migration to the United States. Results indicated that the odds for obesity among U.S.-born Mexican Americans of both sexes were roughly three times higher than for first-generation Mexican immigrants to the U.S. Results also showed that among Mexicans with no direct migration experience, having a migrant in the immediate family is associated with a higher risk for obesity among women but not for men. This finding may reflect economic influences on diet, such as cash remittances sent by migrants working in the United States. Given that obesity is a risk factor for the major causes of mortality in the U.S., growing obesity rates among Mexican Americans are a public health and clinical concern.

Key Findings

  • Obesity is more prevalent among people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. than it is among the Mexican population.
  • Immigrants to the U.S. who were born in Mexico are more likely to be obese than people from similar families who remained in Mexico. U.S.-born Mexican-Americans are more likely to be obese than Mexico-born immigrants.
  • Second and later generations of Mexican-Americans are more likely to be obese than first generation Mexican-born immigrants to the U.S.
  • Within Mexico, obesity is related to migration, even among people who have never been to the U.S. In particular, for Mexican women, having a family member working in the U.S. is associated with a higher prevalence of obesity.

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