A diverse panel of experts from eight USC schools, led by Lihua Liu, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, recently formed a new public health initiative to focus on the health of immigrants in the United States.

The Immigrant Health Initiative (iHi), which received a $25,000 grant per year for up to three years from the USC Collaboration Fund, will engage students and faculty in exploring why the positive health characteristics of many immigrants to the United States deteriorate soon after their arrival and what can be done to stop and reverse such a trend. The panel included experts in communications, law, cinema, social work, medicine and urban planning.

Among the research and educational opportunities planned are class projects, student grants, junior faculty mentoring opportunities, community-based outreach programs and research proposals for federal or private funding sources.

The initiative’s first seminar, “Health Disparities and the Immigrant Health Initiative” presented by Provost Professor William Vega, executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, is planned for Sept. 29 in Room 450 of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. A student symposium on immigrant health also is being considered for next spring.

The idea for the initiative sprang from Liu’s work at the Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program compiling cancer statistics and conducting research. Liu was struck by the increasing risk for many types of cancer and other chronic diseases among immigrant populations along with their U.S. residency.

The deterioration in health is believed to be due to a combination of institutional, behavioral and environmental changes, including a lack of quality health services for linguistic minorities, the desire to become “American” and the lack of health information and education, Liu said. Without proper education, immigrants quickly lose healthy habits as they adapt to American living.

“As an immigrant myself, I have a personal understanding of immigrant experiences and the American Dream,” Liu said. “To me, the deterioration of immigrant health is tragic and unnecessary. Given the rapid growth of the foreign-born population in this country, we can no longer overlook immigrant health issues.”

The panel’s long-term goal is to establish a transdisciplinary research center on immigrant health at USC.

“We hope iHi will start a new approach in public health research and policy development to pay attention to immigrants and to identify the strengths in immigrant communities,” Liu explained. “With its research vigor, collaborative academic environment, the highest number of international students among all U.S. universities and prime geographic location in Los Angeles, we believe that USC is in an advantageous position to lead the exploration of a new public health approach to benefit all Americans.”