Importance of Generational Status in Examining Access to and Utilization of Health Care Services by Mexican American Children

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Objectives. To describe the sociodemographic differences among Mexican American children (first, second, and third generation), non-Hispanic black children, and non-Hispanic white children; to compare the health status and health care needs of Mexican American children (first, second, and third generation) with those of non-Hispanic black children and non-Hispanic white children; and to determine whether first-generation Mexican American children have poorer health care access and utilization than do non-Hispanic white children, after controlling for health insurance status and socioeconomic status.

Methods. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was used to create a sample of 4372 Mexican American children (divided into 3 generational groups), 4138 non-Hispanic black children, and 4594 non-Hispanic white children, 2 months to 16 years of age. We compared parent/caregiver reports of health status and needs (perceived health of the child and reported illnesses), health care access (usual source of health care and specific provider), and health care utilization (contact with a physician within the past year, use of prescription medications, physician visit because of earache/infection, and hearing and vision screenings) for different subgroups within the sample.

Results. More than two thirds of first-generation Mexican American children were poor and uninsured and had parents with low educational attainment. More than one fourth of first-generation children were perceived as having poor or fair health, despite experiencing similar or better rates of illnesses, compared with other children. Almost one half of first-generation Mexican American children had not seen a doctor in the past year, compared with one fourth or less for other groups. Health care needs among first-generation Mexican American children were lower, on the basis of reported illnesses, but perceived health status was worse than for all other groups. After controlling for health insurance coverage and socioeconomic status, first-generation Mexican American children and non-Hispanic black children were less likely than non-Hispanic white children to have a usual source of care, to have a specific provider, or to have seen or talked with a physician in the past year.

Conclusions. Of the 3 groups of children, Mexican American children had the least health care access and utilization, even after controlling for socioeconomic status and health insurance status. Our findings showed that Mexican American children had much lower levels of access and utilization than previously reported for Hispanic children on the whole. As a subgroup, first-generation Mexican American children fared substantially worse than second- or third-generation children. The discrepancy between poor perceived health status and lower rates of reported illnesses in the first-generation group leads to questions regarding generalized application of the “epidemiologic paradox.” Given the overall growth of the Hispanic population in the United States and the relative growth of individual immigrant subgroups, the identification of subgroups in need is essential for the development of effective research and policy. Furthermore, taking generational status into account is likely to be revealing with respect to disparities in access to and utilization of pediatric services.