“Becoming American”

  • I scored 6/10 on the Health Equity Quiz. One of the statistics I found most unexpected was that the greatest difference in life expectancy observed between U.S. counties was 15 years, and that these differences are intensified when comparing subgroups. Intuitively, I would think that variables such as health insurance, heredity, social support, and psychological resiliency would be the primary predictors of health. However, upon further evaluation, zip code is correlated with income, access to healthy and affordable options, safety and sanitation infrastructure, exposure to stressors, coping resources, job security, and crime rate, which in turn affect life expectancy.  In particular, it is disturbing that position on the class pyramid is the most potent indicator of health, as evidenced by a health-wealth gradient.  I was also astonished that chronic illness costs the U.S. $1.1 trillion in lost work productivity; given this economic burden, it is surprising that more people do not endorse state-sponsored health care, due to its potential to enhance preventative medicine measures and preempt chronic illness (only 48% of registered voters supported ‘Obamacare’ in a July 1 Reuters/Ipsos poll, according to the Huffington Post).
  • Unnatural Causes 3, “Becoming American,” addressed the Latino Health Paradox, the phenomena that new Mexican immigrants to the United States possess better health (in terms of lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.) than their native-born American counterparts, including those of higher socioeconomic status and education. The longer immigrants live in the United States, the more they adopt an Americanized lifestyle (poor diet, sedentary activity levels, occupational stress), are exposed to discrimination, and their health begins to resemble other Americans. The buffering effects of being a new immigrant are attributed to cultural variables such as family cohesiveness, social support, and affiliation with cultural identity, which are eroded with longer duration in America and disappear in successive generations. The video suggests that providing opportunities for community involvement, decent housing, jobs, and wages, and retaining traditions of the culture of origin can extend the protective effects to health.
  • According to the ecological approach viewed through the lens of political ecology, at a macro-level of analysis, historical, economic, social, and political transformations of populations bear directly on disease origination, frequency, distribution, and dissemination. As McElroy cites, “fluctuations among, or disruption of biotic, abiotic, and cultural subsystems,” when exceeding human adaptive capacity, can lead to “environmental degradation, loss of resources, population decline, changes in trophic (feeding) relations, and disease”.  For instance, shistosomiasis development in North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s was a consequence of dam construction as part of Egyptian economic policy, which perturbed ecological niches and caused disease emergence. By the logic of cultural ecology, culturally entrenched beliefs and practices can disturb fragile human-pathogen equilibriums and hence create or spread disease. For example, a 1988 study by the Mulls examined how rural Pakistani mothers rejected oral rehydration therapy on the grounds that diarrhea was a ‘hot’ illness necessitating ‘cold’ treatment, a category under which Western did not fall according to their ethnomedical model.  Here, cultural beliefs and individual choice about employing a treatment modality precluded their use of ORT and perpetuated morality from diarrheal illnesses. Furthermore, biology can influence disease prevalence by adaptive mutations conferring selective advantage, as is the case with heterozygosity of Sickle Cell alleles which engenders malarial resistance.


Mull, J.D., & Mull, D.S. (1988) “Mothers’ concepts of childhood diarrhea in rural Pakistan:

what ORT program planners should know”. Social Science & Medicine, 27(1), 53-67.

3 thoughts on ““Becoming American”

  1. I also got 6 out of 10 on the health quiz! I was pretty surprised by some of the answers; I guess I expected the United States to be healthier than it really was. It is so surprising that life expectancy can differ so greatly by such little distance. When I think of it in terms of my situation, the nearest county is just a few miles away and they could potentially have a longer life expectancy than I do. While I had never really thought of it before, your points make complete sense. The wealthier a certain county is the better health care they can receive; better sanitation and overall healthier lifestyles simply do to their ability to afford it and the fact that they may have a better awareness of the healthier options out there. Some people who are born into a less fortunate home may not even be aware of the necessity to eat certain foods and in most cases do not have the ability to receive these options.
    I found it to be very interesting that the new Latino immigrants were healthier than their American counterpart. It is actually quite sad that as time passes they become less healthy all because they begin to assimilate with our lifestyle. To me this just shows how badly Americans need to change their eating habits and increase their activities. In my opinion, I think we could really learn something from other people in different countries in order to live longer and healthier lives.

  2. I was also surprised that the health of new Latino immigrants was actually better than the health of native-born Americans. Considering the conditions that a large number of Latino immigrants come from, I had thought that would not be the case. I am not however surprised that there health upon arrival, decreases. The programs in place, or lack thereof, are simply inadequate and underprepared. My solution is primarily governmental. Since the government has the ability to affect a wide range of areas, this American shortcoming falls on their shoulders. There are numerous areas in which we could decrease spending to alleviate social issues such as immigration. The amount of funds allocated in defense alone could and should be cut in half. Unnecessary corporate tax breaks would be another great place to loosen up funds for social programs. I think what people miss on, in terms of immigration, is that being born an American is not an entitlement. You simply don’t have control where you are born. If people put themselves in other people’s shoes for a day, maybe their perspectives would change. Actually I’m almost certain they would. There is far too much ignorant and intolerable feelings towards people who are simply trying to better their lives and the lives of their families. I don’t see any potential cons to helping people in need. An obvious pro would be beginning to gain back the respect of a large international community that has come to dislike us for far too often, valid reasons.

  3. I also thought that the Latin Paradox was quite interesting though when we think about the factors of an American lifestyle that you pointed out it makes sense. Many other countries things such as staying active, eating healthier or small quantities, and reducing strees are very important. I think that by embracing some of these values the health of all can be improved. This is something that the government has began to take on by televising commericals about saying active on children networks. If children can be encouraged to move around at a young age the risk of obsetity is decreased resulting in a higher life expectancy. Another governmental program that I would encourage is those to change the lunch menus in school cafeterias. many of the opitions that the kids have are fatty items such as pizza, burgers, and fries; salads if they’re offered are more expensive than unhealthy alternatives. This should be the reverse to get the kids to eat healthly. If the eat fruits and vegatables at school they will be more willing to eat them at home. Another less formal solution for the immigrant health issue would be to base programs in community center that they frequently use, for example a church. By placing clinicians in a causal environment the individual may feel less intimidated and more willing to follow orders. The clinician will be able to understand more of the new culture so that he/she can be respectful in how they approach their patient. These community based projects could offer simple preventive matters such as vaccines, a low-cost/free physical, blood screenings, and etc. This way some health issues can be caught before becoming worse.

Leave a Reply