Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Changing policies and more aggressive immigration enforcement have increased concerns among recent immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- in the United States, and the worries have been shown to affect health.
In a four-year study of Mexican-born women who reside in an agricultural area of California, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that study subjects more concerned about deportation were more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure than those who were less so.
"Our findings suggest that concerns around immigration policies and enforcement may have potentially negative impacts on the long-term cardiovascular health of immigrants and their families and community," lead author Jacqueline M. Torres, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a statement.
The Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health supported the study.
Torres and her team followed 572 women, with an average of 39 years, participating in a long-term study of Mexican women and their children in farm-worker families in the Salinas Valley region of California.
As part of a baseline assessment performed from 2012 to 2014, the women in the study were asked to rate their concern about deportation for themselves or others. In all, 28 percent described their concern "as not too much," while 24 percent said they had a moderate amount of worry.
Nearly half -- 48 percent -- said they "had a lot of worry" regarding immigration enforcement, however.
At the time of the initial assessment, the researchers noted that deportation fears were associated with steeper increases in systolic blood pressure, but that there was no significant difference in the proportion of women diagnosed with high blood pressure among women with varying levels of concern.
However, in the four-year follow-up, with evaluations conducted between 2014-2016 and 2016-2018, the researchers noted a steeper initial increase in systolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure in women who reported higher deportation worry at their baseline assessment.
And, among the 408 women who did not have high blood pressure at the initial assessment, women with moderate or high deportation worry were twice as likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to those expressing little worry during the four-year follow-up period.
"Just as clinicians may think about the role of other stressors impacting the lives and health of their patients, this study suggests they may also need to consider the impact of policies such as immigration on stress levels and the subsequent effect on outcomes related to blood pressure," said Torres.
The researchers cautioned that the study included only women from one part of the country, and that the results may not be generalizable to other groups. However, they added, there is also reason to believe they may have underestimated the effect that living in fear of deportation has on cardiovascular risks like high blood pressure.
"The women in this study are living in a welcoming, largely Latino community, and they're also in California, where they may have less fear of being deported because it's a sanctuary state," senior author Brenda Eskenazi, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. "These results may be magnified in other regions in the United States."