Latina mothers from El Salvador and other Central and South American countries living in California give birth to healthier babies than expected based on their access to health care and education levels, according to a UCLA study.
In addition, the study by the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that while U.S.-born Latinas have a higher level of education, they have a higher teen pregnancy rate than immigrant Latinas from Central and South America. Researchers also found that U.S.-born mothers of Central and South American origin have a higher percentage of low birth-weight babies than immigrant mothers.
The findings are part of a profile of Salvadoran immigrants developed by the center. UCLA researchers decided to look at trends in the Salvadoran-American community in the state three years ago because very little information has been available, and the university wanted to fill the information gap, said David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and the center director. The center, which funded the study, worked with The Salvadoran-American Leadership and Educational Fund on the project. In the two previous studies, the center studied other aspects of life for the Salvadoran community in California.
â€œThe Salvadoran community is an integral part of the Latino population of Los Angeles, and merits the best possible data,â€? Hayes-Bautista said. â€œThis is a small step in that direction.â€?
â€œWe are very excited to be a part of this effort with UCLA,â€? said Carlos Vaquerano, SALEF executive director. â€œThe findings demonstrate the importance of educating California about the issues affecting our Salvadoran and Latino communities. This type of research helps us identify the needs in key areas such as health, education and population growth. Furthermore, this study provides our Salvadoran community with information important to our lives and well-being.â€?
In looking at birth data, researchers found that Salvadoran and Central and South American mothers, like Latinas from Mexico who live in California, fall within the â€œLatino epidemiological paradox,â€? a phenomenon in which Latinos are in better health than non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that their access to and use of health-care systems, socioeconomic status and education levels are lower.
Among the U.S.-born mothers of Central and South American origin, 97.6 percent had nine years of education or more, compared to 74.7 percent for immigrant mothers. In other populations, women with lower education levels have poorer birth outcomes than mothers with higher levels of education.
â€œIn our 2001 Salvadoran profile, we noted that U.S.-born Salvadorans were far more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than immigrant Salvadorans,â€? Hayes-Bautista said. â€œThe Central and South American mothers giving birth continue to fit that educational divide between U.S.-born and immigrant Latinos.â€?
Researchers found that teen pregnancies are higher among U.S.-born mothers of Central and South American origin than their immigrant counterparts. The teen pregnancy rate among the U.S.-born mothers was 20.2 percent, compared to 6.4 percent for immigrant mothers. The rate for U.S.-born mothers of Central and South American origin is higher than the state rate of 9.49 percent and even higher than the overall U.S.-born Latina rate of 19.4 percent.
â€œIn other non-Latino populations, teen mothers come from the less educated segments. However, in this case, the more educated U.S.-born Central and South American women are more likely to become teen mothers,â€? Hayes-Bautista said. â€œWe need to understand this troubling trend.â€?
Contrary to expectations, U.S.-born mothers of Central and South American origin, who have higher education and better access to health care than immigrant mothers, have a higher percentage of low birth-weight babies. According to the data, 7.7 percent of the U.S.-born mothers gave birth to a baby weighing less than 2,500 grams, compared to immigrant mothers, 6.5 percent of whom gave birth to low birth-weight babies.
â€œAs detailed in our 2001 Salvadoran profile, the U.S.-born Salvadoran has far higher education, income and access to care than immigrant Salvadorans. In other populations, this would translate into fewer low birth-weight babies,â€? Hayes-Bautista said. â€œHowever, following the typical Latino epidemiological paradox pattern, the less educated immigrants from Central and South America have fewer low birth-weight babies, and the better educated U.S.-born have more. Again, we need to understand these patterns that seem contradictory.â€?
Data for the study came from the 2002 Department of Health Services Master Birth Files.
The mission of The Salvadoran-American Leadership and Educational Fund, a nonprofit organization, is to promote the civic participation and representation of the Salvadoran and other Latino communities in Los Angeles, as well as to advocate for its economic, educational and political advancement and growth.