WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
New Jersey's Department of Health has taken its first comprehensive look at the health of its immigrant population compared with its native-born residents. This analysis comes as the Census shows that immigrants are the biggest segment of growth in the state's population.
And according to the New Jersey Department of Health comparison, New Jersey's immigrants are healthier on average than their native-born neighbors.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh says the different rates can in part be traced to immigrants having healthier diets and lower rates of smoking and drinking than New Jersey residents born in the United States.
Alaigh says people who choose to leave their native land to come to the U.S. tend to be the healthiest in their country of origin to begin with. "And if they do get ill for any reason, most of them tend to go back to their native country seeking health care," Alaigh said in a phone interview.
New Jersey immigrants also had lower mortality rates for the top 10 causes of death that are documented for New Jersey residents born here. Alaigh says the medical community can improve health outcomes for all Americans by studying the diverse customs of the state's growing immigrant population.
"There are certain cultures that eat fresh home-cooked meals every single day. There are certain kinds of grains and vegetables that they are having regularly in their diet that helps promote a lean body mass index and not obesity," said Alaigh. He also noted that in some cultures a walk after dinner is a ritual.
But just as native-born New Jersey residents can learn from immigrant, the trend goes both ways: The study found that after about a decade of living in New Jersey, immigrants started picking up unhealthier behaviours like smoking and binge drinking and experienced a greater risk of obesity and hypertension.
New Jersey is the third most popular state as a destination for entry by immigrants. The Department of Health data shows that India is the most popular country of origin followed by Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Phillipines.
Currently more than one in five of New Jersey residents is foreign born, up from 15 percent in 2000. In 28 percent of all the state's households, a language other than English is spoken.
The reports sources include: