Burden of Mental Illness and Non-communicable Diseases and Risk Factors for Mental Illness Among Refugees in Buffalo, NY, 2004–2014

Wudeneh Mulugeta, Hong Xue, Myron Glick, Jungwon Min, Michael F. Noe, Youfa Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Limited is known about mental illness and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors among refugees. These were studied using data collected from a refugee population in Buffalo, NY. Methods: Longitudinal data collected on 1055 adults (> 18 years) at a large refugee health center in Buffalo, NY, during 2004–2014 were used. Main outcomes were hypertension, diabetes, tobacco use, obesity, overweight/obesity, and mental illness. Risk factors were assessed using multivariate regression models. Results: Compared to those without mental illness, refugees with mental illness had higher rates of hypertension (16.9 vs 28.4%, P < 0.001), diabetes (8.4 vs 13.6%, P = 0.03), tobacco use (9.3 vs 18.3%, P < 0.001), obesity (13.0 vs 25.4%, P < 0.001), and overweight/obesity rates (45.0 vs 61.5%, P < 0.001). During 2004–2014, obesity rates increased among those with mental illness (25.4 to 36.7%, P < 0.001) and without mental illness (13.0 to 24.5%, P < 0.001). The overall mental illness prevalence among refugees was 16%, ranging from 6.9% among Asians to 43.9% among Cubans. Women were more likely to have mental illness (odds ratio = 2.45; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.68–3.58) than men. Refugees who lived longer in the USA were more likely to carry psychiatric diagnoses (OR = 1.12; 95% CI = 1.04–1.21). Conclusion: Mental illness rates varied considerably across various refugee groups. Rates of obesity and NCDs among refugees with mental illness were higher than among those without mental disorders. Gender, region of origin, and length of stay in the USA were associated with mental illness. Accurate and culturally sensitive screenings and assessments of mental illness are needed to reduce these health disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of racial and ethnic health disparities
StateAccepted/In press - May 21 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Health disparity
  • Mental illness
  • Non-communicable diseases
  • Obesity
  • Refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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