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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Live Long and Prosper

I've been reading about the "Hispanic epidemiological paradox" - which means that foreign-born Hispanics in the Southwestern US have lower mortality rates than white (that's right - lower mortality rates - they live longer).  Not Hispanics "Americanized" - but those that coming over the border the "hard way" - illegally to work, to have a better life for their family.

Once here, though, the American way of life starts to increase their mortality rate: from the WSJ article:

"Research has shown that U.S.-born Hispanics have worse health outcomes than foreign-born Hispanics, including a higher prevalence of diabetes and obesity. They are also more likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs. Teenage pregnancy is more common among U.S-born Latinas than Latina immigrants.

"As people become acculturated they adopt American ways: They become more sedentary and eat fast food," said Dr. Molina. "You look more American the longer your family has been here."

This is very interesting.  The "American lifestyle" is literally shortening the lives of subsistence-level workers from foreign countries.  As far as I can tell poor Mexicans crossing the boarder into the US do have the "dietary advantage" of their northern neighbors: no MacDonalds, no Pringles, no Coke, no Pepsi.

And they live longer until they are assimilated. 

I read the above link a couple of weeks ago and have been pondering over it since.

This is not just hearsay or made up stuff - this has been seen scientifically for at least 25 years.

In looking for some guidance on this I came across this article.  It discusses the comparative diets of Americans and Mexicans.  Though it offers no specific insight it points out that traditional Mexican diets involve a lot of beans and corn (high fiber) but lack fruits and leafy green vegetables.

Asian Americans and Japanese in the US also have longer lifespans, as do US Mormons.  The longest living Mormons "don't smoke, attend church weekly, have 12 years of education and are married."  I could find nothing about what the Mormons are eating, however, though one assumes that, being based in Utah, they eat more or less the same as other Americans.  Over the years I have known a number of Mormons and I did not notice any particularly unusual dietary habits - though what do I know.

Hispanic divorce rates are about the same as white in the US as far as I can tell - though I could not come up with any concrete references to support this.  So it would seem that as far as longevity is concerned marriage/divorce does not come into play.

I would say, based on what I can find, that the reasons for the "Hispanic epidemiological paradox" is two-fold.

First, the lack of assimilation in US culture - particularly from a dietary perspective.  I think its the case that though corn and beans are not the worlds most nutritious diet they do not have the negative effects of the typical US diet.  Other factors relate to US culture come into play as well I am sure.  But I think not eating our diet (as opposed to however poor their diet might otherwise be) is key.

Second, let's look at the concept of crossing the US boarder illegally.  And let's focus on people crossing the border for non-drug reasons (illegal drug issues on the border are a different ball game).

You have to be fairly desperate to leave your family to do this. You have to have a strong family bond to survive the separation because, as far as I can see, usually the whole family does not go initially - its too dangerous.  So someone who can make money and send it back (which does not seem to be illegal and is the focus of a lot of Western Union-type money transfer companies) seems do the crossing initially.

Once here they typically work and work hard, collect money, send it back, and try to get the rest of their family here.

So what type of life-outlook do you need to do this?  A very strong one.  One that can endure significant sacrifice.  I would suggest that for most Americans this kind of sacrifice is beyond imagination.  To leave your spouse, your children, to partake in a dangerous border crossing into a land where you don't necessarily know anyone and don't speak the language. 

I think that someone in this situation has a very positive outlook.

To me this has to be a key part of the "Hispanic epidemiological paradox."

For the most part Americans suffer enormous self-inflicted stress: job, family, divorce, substance abuse, etc.  Though you might have these same issues in Mexico if you were poor you would still need something to push you over the border:  I would say some sort of boundless optimism - almost reckless optimism.  And that gives you a positive outlook - one that knows no limitations.

So what role does a hugely positive outlook have on your life span?  This link offers some ideas: "Being optimistic in middle age increases life span by at least 7.5 years--even after accounting for age, gender, socioeconomic status, and physical health, according to a large Yale University survey."

Now none of my discussion here is scientific but it woulds seem to me that Americans in general (with the exception of specific groups like border crossing Hispanics, Mormons, etc.) do not have the same types of positive attitudes as you might find in other groups.  Asian cultures are also very family oriented, they focus on working hard, taking care of children, and sacrificing.

As Americans we focus on money and retirement savings -  having more toys, getting what we want.

In other cultures the measure of a successful man is does he have children, has he created opportunity for them, has he done his job, have I made an investment in family to take care of himself in later life.

Personally I find the "money grubbing American" model disgusting. 

Money does not buy happiness or health.  I find that I measure myself in the same ways as the foreigners do: I have grown children, I worked hard to get them started in life - often doing without what I would have wanted for myself otherwise, I have what I need but I do not work for "things", I focus on the joy and love of my relationship with my wife, I've worked hard at all of this.

And I think, most importantly, I am personally satisfied.  I have made the right sacrifices.

If I fall over dead tomorrow nothing significant would be left undone.

How many people can really say that?

Now, whether I live another minute or 30 more years - no one can say - but I don't worry about it.


Emma said...

This is a very interesting article. But there is one thing you may have forgotten to add into your thinking about this topic (though I do know that a positive outlook has much benefit to one's life)is the biological make up of different ethnic groups. People who live in northern climates historically are fairer in color from blond hair and blue eyes, to those who live closer to the equator with darker hair and eyes. Some cursory research I've done on this topic says that a person's historical ethnic diet does a lot in the way of their health. Do you think it's possible that if a person's outward appearance has changed because of climate it could also be possible a group of people will adapt to their location in regards to getting proper nutrients from their natural surrounding? As in the Mexican's have a longer life-span because they have adapted to the food preparation and consumption in their native country while when they come here to eat our foreign and over processed foods their health declines creating a greater mortality rate.

Todd R. Kueny, Sr. said...

I think the science shows that the longer you are here the less your mortality rate. So even if you are genetically advantaged in some way its lost once you hit BigMacs and the couch remote...

Emma said...

I think I wasn't clear. Mexican's who are here who stick to a strict traditional ethnic diet do not have the same health problems as those who chow down on the BigMac. Despite the lack of nutritional value of their historic food it would seem that either their bodies have adapted to this lack of nutrition or are making up for it in some other way. The "BigMac" diet is has adverse effect on heath and well being. That is apparent with today's medical problems and obesity growing at an epic rate.

So what I was originally trying to say was that could a person's ethnic background dictate which [natural/whole] foods to eat and which ones to avoid in an attempt to avoid further health issues?

Todd R. Kueny, Sr. said...

Its demonstrated that your genetic makeup affects your health. No reason that diet is not part of that.