Open Access Research article

Evidence for the healthy immigrant effect in older Chinese immigrants: a cross-sectional study

Laura Corlin12, Mark Woodin13, Mohan Thanikachalam3, Lydia Lowe4 and Doug Brugge3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University School of Engineering, Medford, MA, USA

2 Community Health Program, Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences, Medford, MA, USA

3 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, USA

4 Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, Boston, MA, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:603  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-603

Published: 14 June 2014



Previous work has found that first-generation immigrants to developed nations tend to have better health than individuals born in the host country. We examined the evidence for the healthy immigrant effect and convergence of health status between Chinese immigrants (n = 147) and U.S. born whites (n = 167) participating in the cross-sectional Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health study and residing in the same neighborhoods.


We used bivariate and multivariate models to compare disease prevalence and clinical biomarkers.


Despite an older average age and lower socioeconomic status, Chinese immigrants were less likely to have asthma (OR = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.09–0.48) or cardiovascular disease (OR = 0.44, 95% CI = 0.20–0.94), had lower body mass index (BMI), lower inflammation biomarker levels, lower average sex-adjusted low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and higher average sex-adjusted high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. However, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of diabetes or hypertension. Duration of time in the U.S. was related to cardiovascular disease and asthma but was not associated with diabetes, hypertension, BMI, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, socioeconomic status, or health behaviors.


The lower CVD and asthma prevalence among the Chinese immigrants may be partially attributed to healthier diets, more physical activity, lower BMI, and less exposure to cigarette smoke. First generation immigrant status may be protective even after about two decades.

Healthy immigrant effect; Chinese immigrants; Convergence of health status