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New Initiative to Look at Health Disparities Among Immigrants

New Initiative to Look at Health Disparities Among Immigrants

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The average immigrant comes to the United States as a healthier individual than the average U.S.-born American. However, by the time they reach the age of 75 or 80, immigrants suffer from much higher rates of chronic illness than their American-born peers.

Dr. William Vega

Addressing that phenomenon is the goal of a new initiative at the University of Southern California. The Immigrant Health Initiative (iHi) is spearheaded by 12 faculty members from different schools across the USC campus who will focus on finding solutions to the persistent health disparities faced by immigrants.

At the initiative's inaugural seminar Thursday, Dr. William Vega, Ph.D., spoke on defining those health disparities and ways that researchers can go about looking for solutions.

He said that one of the main goals of the initiative was to "interpret health disparities in the context of social adaptation of immigrants to the U.S."

Immigrants tend to live in poverty, which has long-lasting effects on health.

"By the time (immigrants) get to their 80s, what happens is that the difficult conditions they experience and live in during their lives leads to more chronic illnesses in old age," said Vega, who is a provost professor and executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging. "What we need to do is figure out how to keep them as healthy as they are when they get here."

Vega outlined three pillars that lead to a high quality of life:

  • Community context
  • Health, medical and social services
  • Social support

He said that if the initiative can create ways to strengthen each of those pillars in the lives of immigrants living in the United States, they could help produce a healthier sector of the population.

Key barriers for immigrant communities are wealth, high incidence of violence, low incidence of school attendance and poor access to adequate health services.

These and other factors are what iHi plans to look at as they begin their research into the health disparities of immigrants.

The initiative is funded by the USC Collaboration Fund to foster collaborations across disciplines and create new research and educational opportunities.

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