The United States’ restrictive immigration policies are having an impact on the health of immigrant women, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Researchers at the University of California looked at risk factors for cardiovascular disease among mostly Latina women in the United States who feared deportation either for themselves or for family members, and found an increased risk of high blood pressure and other heart diseases.
Researchers did not reveal whether the women were US residents or undocumented immigrants due to privacy concerns.
Study author Jacqueline Torres, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California at San Francisco, said the conclusion is important.
“One reason is it tracks the long-term impact of immigration policy and enforcement,” Torres said. “This is about broader impacts in our community.”
Previous studies have shown a link between deportation worry and depression, anxiety and higher levels of inflammation. This latest study now shows a link between deportation fears and high blood pressure.
Scientists followed 572 women averaging 39 years old over a four-year period and discovered that almost half, or 48%, reported “a lot” of what researchers called “deportation worry”; 24% reported a “moderate” amount of worry; 28% reported “not too much.”
Among 408 of the participants who did not have high blood pressure when the study started, those reporting “a lot” or “moderate” worry over possible deportation were at greater risk of experiencing hypertension, compared to those who reported “not too much worry.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” said cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the NYU Center for Women’s Health, about the findings.
“We know that when people are stressed or worrying, their blood pressure goes up,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg said the study conclusions follow other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including too much fat around the midsection, a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits.
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Researchers also measured the impact of deportation worry on diastolic blood pressure – the bottom number in a blood pressure reading that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats – and found only a weak link. They did not find a significant link between deportation worry and body mass index, waist circumference or pulse pressure.
“Deportation worry may contribute to widening disparities in some cardiovascular disease risk factors and outcomes over time,” the researchers concluded, but they also noted that little is known about the long-term impact of restrictive immigration policies on immigrants’ health in general or cardiovascular disease or risk factors, specifically.
“We need more research,” Torres said. “These are our neighbors, people working in our communities … we should be concerned about how politics affects communities.”