By Joe Mathews
San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 2019
What makes California the very picture of health? It’s neither sunshine nor silicone.
Our health secret is immigration.
While the president blames immigrants for being sources of disease, Californians have long known that immigrants make us healthier.
Those health benefits go beyond the “immigrant health advantage,” the fact that new arrivals to this country are healthier than the native-born. Throughout California history, immigrants have adapted cultural practices and introduced new ideas that have expanded our definition of health.
Today, it is impossible to separate the issues of health and immigration in California. For one thing, our rapidly aging state relies heavily on immigrants to deliver our health care. In many communities, more than half of doctors are foreign-born, and statewide, one-third of the health care workers are immigrants.
You can see the impact of immigration on health across all stages of life. In our homes, multigenerational living, long associated with immigrants, has gone mainstream; sharing a house both saves money on rent and helps older people live longer, while reducing stress for kids.
California’s concepts of healthy eating also have immigrant roots. Catherine Nimmo, a doctor from the Netherlands, founded America’s first vegan society in our state in 1948.
What is more California than a yoga workout? The state has seen waves of immigrant yogis make and remake yoga practice.
Or if you’re really hurting, you might slip into a whirlpool bath, with jets first invented as a rheumatoid arthritis cure by an Italian immigrant to California named Candido Jacuzzi.
It is no exaggeration to say that Californians have chosen to be ruled by immigrant visions of health. After all, it was two brothers from Canada, Joe and Ben Weider, who popularized bodybuilding and working out with weights, sparking the gym industry, which is an inescapable feature of the state landscape.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
This article might be reaching a little bit to suggest that perhaps health here is dependent on immigration, but it is accurate to state that immigrants by and large are healthier than the average U.S. citizen, and that they do contribute significantly to the health care workforce. They also contribute to the economy, and not just in harvesting our food, but in all sectors of our economy.
Tonight we are expected to hear from President Trump in his State of the Union address some words about immigration, but we should keep in perspective the reality as opposed to our president’s inclination to be creative in his rhetoric.
Immigrants do not burden our health care system. In fact, they contribute more to our economy than they use in public services. A Single Payer Medicare for All program would benefit by adding in to the risk pool our comparatively healthy immigrant population. Those who contend that including immigrants in a national health program would create a burden on the system are flat out wrong. They would help pay for our health care (and even help pay for the Wall if Trump were to get his way).
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