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Health challenges facing new immigrants

| Jan Adams

Assistant Professor, Mohammad Alasagheirin, PhD, RN recently shared his research findings during a UW-Eau Claire Faculty/Academic Staff Forum presentation entitled, “Health Challenges and Needs of New Immigrant and Refugee Populations in the USA.” Dr. Alasagheirin joined the faculty of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences fall of 2014.

A follow-up interview provided greater detail on Dr. Alasagheirin’s research.

Please describe your research.
Immigrating to a new country involves changes in environment, culture, nutrition, and health behaviors. These changes can pose serious challenges to the health and well-being of immigrants and refugees. Over the last several years, I have been studying the long term health outcomes of Sudanese and Somali immigrants and refugees who have resettled in both Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Midwestern United States is viewed by many immigrants and refugees as a safe and welcoming place to resettle where employment and housing markets are relatively stable and the cost of living is affordable. As immigrants and refugees integrate into their new communities, they meet new challenges in the form of language and cultural barriers, and often struggle with poor nutrition and a lack of access to quality healthcare.

In my research, I have studied how Sudanese and Somali communities in Iowa and Wisconsin have adjusted to a Standard American Diet (SAD), which differs significantly from their native diets, and can result in chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, I have studied the changes in physical activity levels within these populations as a result of their resettlement in the United States. Many immigrants and refugees report that walking was their primary form of transportation in their native environment. They report becoming more sedentary after moving to the United States as a result of easy access to a personal car or public transportation and their concerns about the safety and practicality of walking as a form of transportation.

I have also studied child and adolescent health in these populations. Childhood and adolescence are extremely important times in human development and the impact of malnutrition, resettlement, and environmental changes can have both acute and permanent effects on growth and development. I have used various measures to determine body composition, bone density, metabolic risk factors, and the presence of stunting in these children.

What are your next steps?
This summer I will be continuing my research by focusing on screening for chronic diseases among the Somali population in Barron County.

Similar to last summer, students will be participating in my research. Four undergraduate nursing students will take the lead in the data collection phase, by screening for the following chronic diseases: hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, students, under my supervision, will develop a client-specific care plan and health promotion plan for every single subject who is at risk for or has one of these chronic diseases. At the end of the research process, students will also deliver a community-wide care plan and develop teaching sessions for the above mentioned diseases.

Data from the summer research will be presented at CERCA next year, and if applicable, students will submit a paper to a national conference.