Changing Environments and Chronic Disease Among Foreign-born People in the United States and Belgium

Solveig Cunningham, Emory University
Hadewijch Vandenheede, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Rebecca Jones , Emory University

Immigrants are often in better health than native-born people upon arrival, but their health advantages dissipate, especially for chronic diseases. Research has typically conceptualized these changes in health as resulting from exposure to unhealthy Western lifestyles and changes in behaviors with acculturation. We explored these ideas through interviews with 117 refugees and other recently-arrived immigrants across two major immigrant destinations offering different living environments: Atlanta, USA and Brussels, Belgium. Respondents in Atlanta more often identified as overweight or obese and less often as underweight than in Brussels. Respondents in both settings were on average thinner than native-born people; respondents in Brussels were also thinner than those in Atlanta. Across settings, respondents reported adopting new fast/junk foods since migrating and reported changes in grains consumed; in Atlanta, many adopted sodas and sweets. When asked about unhealthy foods, sweets were listed as more frequently in Brussels and fats more frequently in Atlanta.

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 Presented in Session 7. Migration & Urbanization