Young Children of Recent Immigrants at Higher Risk for Poor Health and Food Insecurity

Nov 09, 2010

By Teresa Lim

A new policy brief by Children's HealthWatch explores outcomes for immigrant families, particularly their first years of living in the country, and finds a mixed bag for children in immigrant families.

Children of immigrants demonstrate many advantages: they are more likely than children of U.S.-born mothers to be born at a healthy birth weight and breastfed. They are more likely to live in a two-parent family and have a mother who is not depressed. Yet, children of recent immigrants are also at greater risk for poor overall health and food insecurity.

Children in immigrant families represent the fastest expanding share of children in the United States. Among the young child population, about one in four children under age six has a parent born outside the country. Nearly all of these children are U.S. citizens, while more than half live in low-income families.

In its research, Children's HealthWatch found that young children whose mothers had been in the country less than 10 years were 26 percent more likely to be reported in fair or poor health compared to children with U.S.-born mothers. After 10 years, however, the likelihood of fair or poor health was about the same for both groups of children. Similarly, households with immigrant mothers that had lived in the U.S. for five years or less were 145 percent more likely to be food insecure than households with U.S.-born mothers. This likelihood decreased significantly after 10 years. The brief identifies various obstacles that contribute to the higher probability of poor health and food insecurity among recent immigrant families. For instance, there may be confusion over children's versus parents' eligibility to receive food and nutrition benefits.

As more young children in this country are growing up in immigrant families, policymakers should consider how to best provide services to diverse communities. Policymakers can ensure that appropriate outreach is carried out in immigrant communities to make families aware of the availability of benefits and eligibility rules for public programs, including SNAP and other benefits, and that information is provided in multiple languages. Providing nutrition assistance and access to health services to all young children who need them is vital to ensuring the health of our youngest generation.  

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