Literatus: Health risks in Fil-Am dietary acculturation

SWITCHING cultural environments (acculturation) has significant health risks. Acculturation occurs among Filipinos who migrated to the United States (U.S.) and those born as Filipino-Americans (Fil-Ams).

Across racial boundaries, dietary acculturation results as immigrants modified their use of traditional food, excluding other components in the traditional food, and consuming “new” food. Among immigrants in the U.S., changes in their dietary patterns consist of increased intake of high-energy and processed food; declined intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grain; increased food portion sizes; and preference for sweetened beverages.

As of 2014, over 3.7 million Filipinos were staying in the U.S., ranking Filipinos as the third largest Asian subgroup in the country. Filipinos who are not Fil-Am by birth reached 1.8 million, comprising the fourth largest immigrant group in the U.S.

Studies have noted the increase in hypertension prevalence among Fil-Ams, which was directly associated with their length of residency in the U.S. and migration status. Studies in 2013 and 2015 noted a prevalence rate of 51-53 percent and the highest among racial groups there. Fil-Ams, particularly men, ranked second most prevalent (15.8 percent) with diabetes.

Now, here are the more specific health impacts of American acculturation among Filipinos.

Although Asians, as a racial group, have a lower body mass index (BMI) than Caucasians, Filipinos have higher BMIs among Asian-American subgroups. Moreover, those born Fil-Ams have a higher BMI compared to Philippine-born immigrants.

Obesity also increased significantly among Filipino immigrant women in the U.S. compared to those who stayed in the Philippines. Only 28.8 percent of Filipinas have 25 BMI while 49.2 percent and 50.5 percent of immigrant Filipinas living, for instance, in San Diego and Hawaii, respectively, had it.

These figures apparently resulted from a switch from a Filipino traditional diet to Western Diet, which is rich in fat and sugar components, among those who adapted to American habits. Filipinos who are less acculturated maintained their high fruit and vegetable intake and were less susceptible to obesity.

As the U.S. celebrates the Filipino American History month, let us appreciate the prosperity of those Filipinos who have stayed and worked in that country. Perhaps, increase in weight can be a proof of prosperity, something that many Filipinos at home today may also learn to be more optimistic about.

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