THURSDAY, Jan. 11, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The threat of deportation may take a toll on the hearts of California's female farm workers, a new study finds.
Researchers evaluated data from 2012 to 2014 on nearly 550 women in California's Salinas Valley, an area with a large Hispanic immigrant community.
Nearly half said they worried about deportation. Those who were more fearful had higher levels of body fat, wider waists and were more likely to be obese -- all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Greater worries about deportation were also associated with higher systolic blood pressure (the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats) and pulse pressure, the researchers said. Pulse pressure is an important indicator of heart health.
"These results are not surprising, given what we know about the effects of other societal stressors on physical well-being, including cardiovascular risk factors," said study first author Jacqueline Torres. The findings are "heartbreaking," she added.
The study can't prove that fears of deportation cause heart disease. Still, the results suggest there may be potential long-term health consequences of immigration policies on adult women, the researchers noted.
"They suggest that individuals who are targeted by immigration enforcement practices -- and live in fear of the effects on their family and community members -- might bear a dual burden related to the adverse consequences of this immense stress on their physical health," Torres added in a University of California, Berkeley news release. She is an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, but conducted the study with scientists at UC Berkeley.
The research was done when deportations reached peak levels during the Obama administration. Those rates are expected to rise even further under the Trump administration.
"These farm worker families are critical to the success of the agricultural economy in California and deserve our support," said study co-author Brenda Eskenazi, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
The study was published Jan. 9 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
The American Heart Association has more on stress and heart health.