Long-Term Refugee Health: Health Behaviors and Outcomes of Cambodian Refugee and Immigrant Women

Nelson-Peterman JL, Toof R, Liang SL, Grigg-Saito DC. Health Educ Behav. 2015 Dec;42(6):814-23. 

Refugees in the United States have high rates of chronic disease. Both long-term effects of the refugee experience and adjustment to the U.S. health environment may contribute. While there is significant research on health outcomes of newly resettled refugees and long-term mental health experiences of established refugees, there is currently little information about how the combined effects of the refugee experience and the U.S. health environment are related to health practices of refugees in the years and decades after resettlement. We examined cross-sectional survey data for Cambodian refugee and immigrant women 35 to 60 years old (n = 160) from an established refugee community in Lowell, Massachusetts, to examine the potential contributors to health behaviors and outcomes among refugees and immigrants postresettlement. In our representative sample, we found that smoking and betel nut use were very low (4% each). Fewer than 50% of respondents walked for at least 10 minutes on 2 or more days/week. Using World Health Organization standards for overweight/obese for Asians, 73% of respondents were overweight/obese and 56% were obese, indicating increased risk of chronic disease. Depression was also high in this sample (41%). In multivariate models, higher acculturation and age were associated with walking more often; lower education and higher acculturation were related to higher weight; and being divorced/separated or widowed and being older were related to higher risk of depression. The interrelated complex of characteristics, health behaviors, and health outcomes of refugees merits a multifaceted approach to health education and health promotion for long-term refugee health.

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