Immigrating to a new country could be hazardous to your health

by Ray Clancy on September 5, 2014

Immigrants moving to countries like Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States could find that their health deteriorates over just a couple of decades.

Research by a demographer and social epidemiologist who has lived and worked in several countries has found that moving to Australia could be a health hazard for thousands of immigrants.

EU cross border healthcare

Immigrants could find that their health deteriorates over just a couple decades

According to associate professor Santosh Jatrana of Deakin University in Melbourne, her findings also have important ramifications for others countries with high migrant intakes.

She reports that immigrants who are healthy when they arrive in Australia end up suffering as many chronic health conditions as locally-born Australians after just 20 years in the country.

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

It 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,’ said professor Jatrana.

‘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 explained.

‘Sociocultural barriers could also impact on some immigrants 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 and/or inadequate knowledge of the host country’s health care system, in turn contributing to worsening of health over time.

Professor Jatrana said that the findings could impact international immigration policies. ‘Chronic diseases are a major cause of death and disability worldwide and all the consequent social, physical and economic effects and burdens associated with that. 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,’ she pointed out.

She added that more research is needed to further examine the causes of migrant health decline over time and understanding and addressing risk factors for immigrants is likely to improve the health of everyone.

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