Study: Young Haitian Immigrants May Face Weight Issues

Fred Tasker, Miami Herald, February 18, 2010

When Haitian immigrant children arrive in Miami, they are far less likely to be obese than U.S.-born children. But they start catching up very quickly, and often surpass non-Haitian children in weight problems, a new study says.

The study, published in the current edition of the journal Ethnicity & Disease, reviewed 30 months of medical charts of 250 children ages 2 through 18 who received medical care at the Center for Haitian Studies, a nonprofit Miami organization that serves the Haitian community. It found that 14.9 percent of children born in Haiti were obese, compared with 17.7 percent of all children in the United States.

However, the Haitian-born children had a 3.7 percentile increase in body mass index for each year of residency in the United States.

And among Haitian children at the center who were born in the U.S., 26 percent were obese–well above the U.S. average for all children.

Dr. Sarah Messiah, a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Miami Medical School and co-author of the study, said the reasons for the changes are not yet clear.

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The new report resonates with a 2009 University of Miami study that said people born in Cuba, Puerto Rico or Mexico who came to live in Florida experienced increases of 40 percent or more in rates of cancer. In that study, the difference was blamed on the U.S. diet and lifestyle, including weight gain.

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