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News: Health Update

September 16, 1998 2 min read
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Study: Americanization Has Health Consequences for Children: The children of immigrants start out in the United States as healthy or healthier than their U.S.-born counterparts, but as they assimilate into American culture, their health declines, a study released last week concludes.

The study, by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, both arms of the National Academy of Sciences, says that children in immigrant families appear to be better off both physically and mentally than American-born children.

Adolescents who are first-generation immigrants are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as sexual intercourse at an early age, violence, or use of tobacco or drugs. But the longer immigrants live in the United States, the less healthy they become.

The findings in “From Generation to Generation: The Health and Well Being of Children in Immigrant Families,” are based on surveys of parents and U.S. Census data on the more than 14 million immigrants under 18 living the United States.

The results were unexpected, said Donald J. Hernandez, a special assistant at the U.S. Census Bureau and the study’s director.

“These children tend to have higher poverty rates,” Mr. Hernandez noted, “and are less likely to have health insurance"--factors that would make poorer health seem likely.

The social, economic, or cultural factors that may be responsible for the relative health of immigrant children are largely unknown.

The study, which was conducted over two years, says that much better information is needed about immigrants to help guide policy decisions.

And it calls on the federal government to launch a longitudinal study of immigrant children to measure their development, assimilation, and adjustment over an extended period.

But Kevin P. Dwyer, the president-elect of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Association of School Psychologists, said the study results were not surprising.

Immigrant children eventually adopt many of the behavior patterns of U.S.-born children, he said. “Schools have to do all the repair work for what kids are being brainwashed to do outside of school.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine to prevent the rotavirus, the primary cause of serious diarrhea in U.S. preschoolers.

About 80 percent of the children infected with the rotavirus develop symptoms before age 5, and roughly 55,000 infants and children are hospitalized each year. The virus can be fatal, but deaths usually occur only in undeveloped nations.

After a series of clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the FDA last month recommended that infants be immunized at 2, 4, and 6 months, the period when most other childhood vaccines are given.

The vaccine has not yet been approved for use in toddlers or older children.

If broadly administered, the vaccine could keep 1 million infants and young children in the United States each year and millions more worldwide from contracting the intestinal infection, according to Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories in Marietta, Pa., which is manufacturing the vaccine, RotaSheild.

FDA officials stressed that spreading the word about the vaccine’s availability in day-care centers and through schools is important.

“We are pleased that there is a new vaccine on the market, but people have to use it for it to be effective,” said Lenore Gelb, a spokeswoman for the FDA.

--ADRIENNE D. COLES & JESSICA PORTNER

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