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Border Health

The United States-Mexico border region is defined as the area of land being 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) north and south of the international boundary. It stretches approximately 2000 miles from the southern tip of Texas to California, as set forth by the La Paz Agreement signed in 1983. This agreement not only defined the border region; it also permitted the federal environmental authorities in the United States and Mexico to undertake cooperative initiatives focused on environmental problems of the area.

U.S.–Mexico Border Region Map
Source: Environmental Protection Agency US-Mexico Border 2020 Program

The U.S. Census Bureau brief, The Hispanic Population: 2010, reported the counties with the highest concentrations of Hispanics are found along the southwestern border of the United States in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The Housing Assistance Council’s Housing in the Border Colonias estimates that 5.6 million people reside in the border region with 1.7 million or 29% living in rural areas. According to The State of the Border Report: A Comprehensive Analysis of the U.S.-Mexico Border this area is experiencing a higher rate of migration than other parts of the United States, with a population growth rate nearly double what the entire country experienced over the period from 2000-2010. This accelerated growth in population has placed numerous burdens on the economic, social and health infrastructure of the region, taxing a region already faced with ongoing health challenges, such as:

  • High rates of poverty
  • Linguistic and cultural barriers
  • Restricted access to healthcare
  • Lack of health insurance
  • Limited water resources
  • Shortage of healthcare workers
  • High rates of unintentional injuries and poisonings
  • Lack of suitable housing, clean water and appropriate sewage systems

According to Addressing the Health Care Needs in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region, a policy brief from the National Rural Health Association, the U.S.-Mexico border region is predominantly rural, with 73% of the border counties designated as Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and 63% of the counties designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary medical care.

In spite of these health and social related issues, there are some favorable health outcomes seen in the Hispanic border population, such as low death rates from heart disease and some cancers, and low rates of infant mortality. However, the region does have higher rates of certain diseases and injuries than the rest of the country. For additional information on the current health status among the border population, see Border Lives: Health Status in the United States-Mexico Border Region.

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Last Reviewed: 8/20/2014

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Funding for this project was supported by Grant Number U56RH05539 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.