CHICAGO -- Long-term exposure to American culture may be hazardous to immigrants' health.
A new study found that obesity is relatively rare in the foreign-born until they have lived in the United States -- the land of drive-thrus, remote controls, and double cheeseburgers -- for more than 10 years.
Only 8 percent of immigrants who had lived in the United States for less than a year were obese, but that jumped to 19 percent among those who had been here for at least 15 years. That compared with 22 percent of US-born residents surveyed.
The study, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, shows the flip side of the American dream of finding a better life in the land of plenty.
''Part of the American dream and sort of life of leisure is that you also have some of the negative effects, and obesity is one of the major side effects of the success of technology and just having a life of leisure," said co-author Dr. Christina Wee of Harvard Medical School. ''It's a double-edged sword."
The link between obesity and numbers of years in the United States was found in white, Hispanic, and Asian immigrant groups. It was not seen in foreign-born blacks, but their numbers in the study were too small to draw any conclusions, said lead author Dr. Mita Sanghavi Goel of Northwestern University in Chicago.
''Trends in obesity among immigrants may reflect acculturation and adoption of the US lifestyle, such as increased sedentary behavior and poor dietary patterns," they wrote.
The study involved data on 32,374 participants in a 2000 national health survey, 14 percent of whom were immigrants. The study relied on what the participants reported about their weight.