Foreign nationals in the United States are less likely to receive treatment for heart disease risk factors than native-born Americans or naturalized citizens, a new study reports.
Heart disease -- including heart attack and stroke -- is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed data from about 17,000 U.S. adults. About 82% were native-born; 8.6% were naturalized citizens; and 9.3% were noncitizens. The investigators focused on three key risk factors for heart disease -- high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Only 16.5% of noncitizens were receiving treatment for high cholesterol, compared to 43.3% of naturalized citizens and 45.5% of native-born citizens, the study found. Similar differences were found for treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes.
After adjusting for age, gender, education, income and language preferences, the disparities remained. But the gaps lessened when researchers factored in insurance coverage and access to care.
"Citizenship status acts as a structural barrier to health for noncitizens, where many are systematically excluded from the health care system," said co-author Jenny Guadamuz, who was a doctoral fellow in the university's School of Pharmacy during the study.
"Yet, much of the current literature on immigrant health does not acknowledge citizenship status as a structural barrier that drives health disparities experienced by immigrants, regardless of ethnic, cultural or behavioral differences," she said in a university news release.
Dima Qato, a UIC associate professor of pharmacy and public health, is senior author of the study.
She said the findings offer "strong evidence on the impact of immigration policy on health and health disparities in the U.S. and the importance of promoting health policies at the local, state or federal levels that ensure access to care, including insurance coverage, and protect the health of immigrants, particularly noncitizens."
The study was recently published in the journal Circulation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on heart disease risk factors.