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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Immigration, Unhealthy Dietary Habits, and Nutritional Status

By Michael McBurney

Moving from one place to another takes effort and is fraught with unknowns. Different cultures, languages, laws, and more. People do this because they are seeking opportunity, to improve their circumstances.

Contrary to this notion, Eldeirawi and colleagues report a negative effect of immigration/acculturation on nutritional status using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). The data is not recent but the results are insightful, based on 1,559 Mexican American (MA) children 4-16y of age. Mean serum concentrations of carotenoids (β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, lutein/zeaxanthin), vitamin A, and vitamin E were significantly lower in US-born than Mexican-born children. Unfortunately, they do only report mean serum levels for Mexican-born children. Below, the mean serum values for Mexican-born children are compared with more recently collected mean national values reported for children 6-11y in the CDC Second Nutrition Report (NHANES 2005-2006).


NHANES 1988-1994

NHANES 2005-2006

MA Children

MA Children

All US Children

β-carotene, µg/dL




β-cryptoxanthin, µg/dL




Lutein/zeaxanthin, µg/dL




Vit A, µg/dL




Vit E, µg/dL (nmol/L)

776 (18)

793 (18)

820 (19)

Eldeirawi and colleagues write, “Strengths of the current study include its focus on an understudied population using a nationally representative sample of MA children and using biological markers of antioxidants as opposed to relying on dietary recalls with their inherent measurement issues.” Very true. More emphasis is needed on using biomarker data to assess nutrient status.

Fruit and vegetable consumption by children has declined since 1994-1998. Low intakes of vitamins C and E have been associated with increased risk of asthma. We eat so few fruit, vegetables and grains that most people get almost 2/3 of their total phytonutrient intake from only 1 serving. This isn’t good, especially for growing children.

In addition to evidence that immigration to the US is associated with a loss of healthy eating habits, nationally representative data finds that children living in America had lower vitamin status in 2005-2006 than 1988-1994.

Too few fruit, vegetables and whole grains lead to a lack of antioxidant nutrients. The solution is straightforward. Children, and adults, should eat more foods rich in antioxidant nutrients or use a dietary supplement.

Main Citation

Eldeirawi K, Koenig MD, Persky V, Chavez N. Nativity and serum concentrations of antioxidants in Mexican American children: A cross-sectional study. 2014 Nutr doi:10.3390/nu6041598

Other Citations

Nakamura K, Wada K, Sahashi Y, Tamai Y, Tsuji M, Watanabe K, Ohtsuchi S, Ando K, Nagata C. Associations of intake of antioxidant vitamins and fatty acids with asthma in pre-school children. 2012 Publ Health Nutr doi:10.1017/S1368980012004363

Murphy MM, Barraj LM, Herman D, Bi X, Cheatham R, Randolph RK. Phytonutrient intake by adults in the United States in relation to fruit and vegetable consumption. 2011 JAND doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.08.044