Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center

Obesity and Refugee Health


Obesity is becoming an increasingly prevalent health problem among

newly arriving refugees in the U.S. Clinicians have observed a rise in 
diagnoses of chronic diseases such as glucose intolerance, diabetes 
and hypertension among recent arrivals. Successful management of such chronic conditions requires working with patients' lifestyles, and U.S. clinicians may face cultural and linguistic challenges in engaging their refugee patients. Obesity in particular can be challenging for populations that have experienced significant malnutrition in the form of undernutrition. In this case, being overweight may be viewed as indicative of good health and wealth.  

Additionally, refugees may adopt negative dietary habits, such as over consumption of red meat and fried, starchy foods common 

in the U.S., without realizing the health implications of doing so. The relative abundance of food in the U.S. may lead refugees to go beyond correcting nutritional deficiencies toward an unhealthy consumption of high calorie foods. The Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center advocates that U.S. clinicians discuss healthy nutrition and lifestyles with refugees shortly after arrival.  It should be done in a culturally sensitive manner that validates refugees' traditional dietary and lifestyle practices that may have health benefits.  Also, clinicians should start all refugees on a multivitamin with iron and minerals (unless the refugee has known contraindications). Pregnant and lactating women and children under 5 years of age should be referred to their local WIC program for nutritional assistance and education.


Read more about obesity and chronic disease in refugees >

New in the Literature


Analysis of Latent Tuberculosis Infection Treatment Adherence Among Refugees and Other Patient Groups Referred to the Baltimore City Health Department TB Clinic, February 2009-March 2011. (2013) Nuzzo JB, Golub JE, Chaulk P, Shah M. J Immigr Minor Health


Barriers to Healthcare Access Among Refugees with Disabilities and Chronic Health Conditions Resettled in the U.S. Midwest. (2013) Mirza M, Luna R, Mathews B, Hasnain R, et al. J Immigr Minor Health.


Perspectives on Physical Activity Among Immigrants and Refugees to a Small Urban Community in Minnesota. (2013) Wieland ML, Tiedje K, Meiers SJ, Mohamed AA, et al.  J Immigr Minor Health


Physical and Mental Health Status of Iraqi Refugees Resettled in the United States. (2013) Taylor EM, Yanni EA, Pezzi C, Guterbock M, et al. J Immigr Minor Health


Provisional CDC Guidelines for the Use and Safety Monitoring of Bedaquiline Fumarate (Sirturo) for the Treatment of Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis. (2013) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.


View more New in the Literature >

Lights, Camera, Action: ACA Videos in Refugee Languages!


A short YouTube video titled Refugees and the Affordable Care Act is now available!  The video can be viewed in the following six languages: Somali, Karen, Nepali, Arabic, Kinyarwanda, and English.  The video will be a great tool for refugees to learn more about health insurance and the ACA in their native languages. To view the video please visit the RHTAC website.


The video features refugee speakers and narrators discussing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The video also describes the importance of primary care and health insurance and highlights key health literacy words to help orient refugees to the health care system in the United States.


Learn more about the ACA and refugee health >


Download ACA Briefs in refugee languages >
Mental Health Bibliography

 Compiled by The National Partnership for Community Training and Pathways to Wellness

This bibliography is an effort to compile prominent research and literature on refugee mental health, from general information to screening and assessment processes, effective interventions and best and promising practices in therapy, clinical treatment and culturally specific modalities. In addition, this bibliography includes a section on special considerations and populations as well as a list of useful websites. View the bibliography >

Refugee Admissions and WRAPS Net


A total of 69,930 refugees were admitted to the U.S. in Fiscal Year 2013, the first time since 1980 for refugee admissions to reach the proposed ceiling of 70,000 In early October, President Obama issued a memorandum authorizing admissions of up to 70,000 refugees to the U.S. for Fiscal Year 2014, which will be be allocated among the following regions:






East Asia


Europe and Central Asia


Latin America/Caribbean


Near East/South Asia


Unallocated Reserve



The most up-to-date refugee admissions information is available on Worldwide Refugee Processing Center's Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS), operated by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, where you can download arrival reports by regions, state, and nationality. A report on the top 10 languages spoken by arrived refugees is also available quarterly.


WRAPS Net's new interactive reporting tool allows users to generate custom arrival reports such as geographical maps displaying arrivals by state for a selected nationality, cumulative arrivals by destination city and state for a calendar or fiscal year, and other useful reports.  



Upcoming Events & Trainings 


2013 Refugee Congress: Advocacy in Action

December 9-11, 2013, Washington, DC


Strengthening the Congolese Community: Background, Resettlement, and Treatment Webinar

December 11, 2013, 1:00-2:30 PM EST


North America Region Conference, International Union Against TB and Lung Diseases

February 27 - March 1, 2014, Boston, MA


North American Refugee Health Conference
June 19-21, 2014, Rochester, NY


The National Migration Conference
July 7-10, 2014, Washington, DC


View more events and trainings > 

Funding Opportunities  
U.S. National Institutes of Health
Due January 7, 2014. Suggested research areas include: biobehavioral studies of multiple factors that influence child health disparities, studies that target specific health promotion needs of children with known illness and/or disability, and/or studies that test and evaluate comparative effectiveness of health promotion interventions.

Health Promotion Among Racial and Ethnic Minority Males

U.S. National Institutes of Health

Due September 7, 2016. Seeks applications to stimulate and expand research in the health of minority men to enhance understanding of the numerous factors (e.g., sociodemographic, community, societal, personal) influencing the health promoting behaviors of racial and ethnic minority males and their subpopulations across the life cycle, and encourage applications focusing on the development and testing of culturally and linguistically appropriate health-promoting interventions designed to reduce health disparities among racially and ethnically diverse males and their subpopulations age 21 and older.


RHTAC is a project of the Division of Global Populations and Infectious Disease Prevention, Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Our collaborators include the Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Children's Hospital Boston, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, the Cultural Orientation Resource Center at the Center for Applied Linguistics, and JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc. The information contained in RHTAC newsletters does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of RHTAC's partner agencies or funders.


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Flu Materials
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
Patient information in plain language and pictures in 11 refugee languages.  


Congolese Refugees
Resettlement Support Center Africa
Focuses on cultural orientation overseas and concerns raised by refugees.


Self-Care Strategies for Refugee Community Leaders
U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and SAMHSA
Designed in response to suicides in the Bhutanese-Nepali refugee community and geared toward refugee community leaders, caseworkers, community-based organization leaders, and faith-based leaders as well as refugees. 

Reported Tuberculosis in the United States, 2012
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Summary data for U.S. TB cases reported to the Division of TB Elimination, CDC, during 2012.


Health Insurance Marketplace Resources in Multiple Languages
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Resources are available in Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese, Creole, Farsi, French, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Tibetan, and Vietnamese.


View more resources > 



Webinar Archive   


Free CME/CEC available!    

Tools and Strategies for Refugee Mental Health Screening: Introducing the RHS-15 

Presenter: Michael Hollifield, M.D.


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