It is hard to swim upstream: dietary acculturation among Mexican-origin children

Jennifer Van Hook, Pennsylvania State University
Susana Quiros, Pennsylvania State University
Michelle Frisco, Pennsylvania State University
Emnet Fikru, Pennsylvania State University

Health and immigration researchers often implicate dietary acculturation in explanations of Mexican children of immigrants’ weight gain after moving to the U.S., but rarely explore how diet is shaped by immigrants’ structural incorporation. We used data from the 1999/00-2009/10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to assess how indicators of Mexican-origin children’s acculturation and structural incorporation influence two outcomes: how healthy and how “Americanized” children’s diets are. Indicators of acculturation were strongly associated with more Americanized and less healthy diets. However, structural incorporation indicators were mostly unrelated to diet outcomes net of acculturation. An exception was that parental education was positively associated with consuming a healthy diet. Finally, children of natives consumed more Americanized, unhealthy diets than children of immigrants and these differences were largely explained by differences in acculturation. Children of natives would have consumed an even less healthy diet were it not for their higher levels of parental education. Overall the results suggest that the process of adapting to the U.S. life style is associated with the loss of cultural culinary preferences and less healthy eating behaviors despite improvements in socioeconomic status.

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Presented in Session 123: Immigration, acculturation and health status