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J Adolesc Health. 1995 Aug;17(2):99-105.

The associations between immigrant status and risk-behavior patterns in Latino adolescents.

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  • 1Center for Reproductive Health Policy Research, University of California at San Francisco 94109, USA.



The purpose of this study was to identify differences in patterns of risk-taking behavior among Latino adolescents with respect to immigrant status and in comparison to their native non-Hispanic white counterparts.


In fall of 1988 and spring of 1989 a confidential Teen Health Risk Survey was administered to 1,789 students at two high schools in northern California, both of which have a school health center on-site, and which had large numbers of Latino students enrolled. We divided the Latino adolescent population into two groups: Latinos who were born in the United States (native-born Latinos) and Latinos who had immigrated to the United States (Latino immigrants). Eight different risk-taking behaviors were identified for this study: alcohol, cigarette, marijuana, illicit drug use, self-violence, drunk driving, unintended pregnancy, and violence.


We found that in general, Latino students engaged in a greater number of risk-taking behaviors than native non-Hispanic whites. The mean number of risk behaviors was highest for Latino immigrants (1.78), followed by native-born Latinos (1.71), and native non-Hispanic whites (.99). A t-test revealed that non-Hispanic whites were statistically different from both Latino populations in either level of risk-taking behavior (p < 0.05).


This sample of immigrant Latino students appeared to be vulnerable to engaging in risk-taking behaviors and did not exhibit the anticipated cultural protective factors associated with recent immigrants. The extent and variety of risk-taking behaviors clearly call for the development of culturally sensitive and accessible health education and health care services within a broader array of social, educational and support services.

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