Healthy newcomers eventually succumb to unhealthy living in Australia

by Ray Clancy on November 14, 2014

in Australia Immigration

Many people are attracted to Australia by what they perceive as a healthy outdoor lifestyle, but new research suggests that after 20 years, they suffer as many chronic health problems as the rest of the population.

Indeed, the research from Deakin University goes as far as suggesting that moving to Australia could be a health hazard for thousands of immigrants.

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After 20 years, many immigrants to Australia suffer the same healthy problems as native Aussies

Demographer and social epidemiologist Professor Santosh Jatrana from the University’s Alfred Deakin Research Institute has found that immigrants who are healthy when they arrive in Australia end up suffering as many chronic health conditions as locally born Australians after two decades.

The study, undertaken with Dr. Samba Siva Rao Pasupuleti (ADRI) and Dr Ken Richardson from the University of Otago, New Zealand, found a disturbing decline in the health of immigrants in Australia.

“These findings have important ramifications for countries with high migrant intakes, including Canada, the UK and the USA, and could impact on international immigration policies,” Professor Jatrana said.

The research is based on data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey and compares the health of immigrants from both English- and non-English-speaking countries with native born Australians.

Professor Jatrana and her team found a significant difference by nativity status in the reporting of chronic conditions, with immigrants from both English and non-English speaking countries less likely to report a chronic condition and having fewer chronic conditions compared with native born Australians.

However, the health of both these immigrant groups converged to that of the native born population in terms of reporting chronic conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes and respiratory disease after 20 years of stay in Australia.

“Migrant health over the long term could be impacted by the adoption of Australian habits relating to diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol, as well as the stress of migrating, adjusting to a new culture, and discrimination,” Professor Jatrana explained.

“While all migrants are at risk of some stress and discrimination because of their overseas born status, characteristics such as visible minority status may place such migrant communities at risk,” she pointed out.

“Sociocultural barriers could also impact on some immigrants from accessing preventative health care, such as cancer screening among some immigrant women from certain ethnic groups,” she added.

The study noted that barriers which might inhibit the use of preventive health services could include differences in language and culture, income constraints or inadequate knowledge of the host country’s health care system, in turn contributing to worsening of health over time.

“An avoidable decline in the health of immigrants the longer they live in their new country undermines one of the main goals of immigration policy,” said Jatrana, who added that more research is needed to further examine the causes of migrant health decline over time.

“Understanding and addressing risk factors for immigrants is likely to improve the health of everyone,” she concluded.

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