The phenomenon known as “The Mexican Paradox” because it registers most strongly among immigrant Mexican women, is one that health researchers have known about for decades but is still news to many health-care providers. (See “The Mexican Paradox,” The Independent, Jan. 22, 2003, ).

A new state study on health disparities found Latinas in North Carolina have fewer low birth-weight babies–a rate of 6.2 compared to 7.2 for whites and 13.9 for African-Americans. Also, they have lower rates of infant deaths–5.8 compared to 6.3 for whites and 15.4 for African Americans.

This, despite the fact that 43.7 percent of Latinas did not start prenatal care until after the first trimester. That’s compared to 18 percent for whites and 30 percent for African Americans.

The source of the paradox remains mysterious, but national studies make one thing clear: The protections it provides disappear as immigrant women begin to adopt American culture and infant mortality rates begin to rise.

North Carolina’s new study identified some risk factors: Fewer Latinas take folic acid before pregnancy compared to whites, for example, and more reported physical abuse before, during and after pregnancy.