Smoking, Diet & The ‘Healthy Immigrant Effect’


It’s widely known that if you’re well-educated and making a good living, you live longer than if you’re poor and haven’t had a lot of schooling. But researchers have found that certain groups of people are exceptions to this rule: Immigrants, and people of Hispanic decent.

So claims Laura Blue in a piece for Scientific American. And she, along with colleague Andrew Fenelon of the University of Pennsylvania, have blamed a pretty obvious culprit: Smoking.

Blue finds that Hispanics have historically smoked less than non-Hispanic whites. Meanwhile, “cigarette consumption is on the rise in much of the developing world, thanks in no small part to strong marketing from tobacco companies.” Add those two things up and eventually, the life expectancy advantage immigrants in the U.S. enjoy right now will probably fade away. She adds:

No one who reads this article will be surprised to learn that smoking kills. But sometimes we forget how profound its effects on health can be. In the case of Hispanics in the U.S., low cigarette consumption seems powerful enough to counteract a slew of socioeconomic disadvantages that often result in poor health and early death. That is a finding worth remembering for everyone.

But a commenter on the article also has a good point: What about diet?

The fact that first-generation Hispanic immigrants are not (yet) converts to the Standard American Diet (SAD), with its proven negative influence on longevity, might make for their higher life expectancy. Hispanic cuisine is much more based on colorful fruit & vegetables, with their wide-ranging and proven antioxidant effects, and is therefore more gene-friendly.

It’s strange to think that moving to the United States can offer an overall bump in quality of life for many people, but that in many ways, assimilating can kill you — especially if it means picking up All-American habits like junk food and cigarettes.

The Ethnic Health Advantage [Scientific American]

Image via holbox/Shutterstock

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