Canadian lifestyle harmful to health of immigrants
- Nicholas Keung
Integration may not be all good for new immigrants to Canada, at least not when it comes to adopting a lifestyle prone to heart problems.
A new multi-ethnic study finds immigrants who have been in Ontario longer actually fare worse in their heart health than recent newcomers.
Of the four groups examined - black, Chinese, South Asian and white - immigrants of Chinese and European descent are the most adversely affected by Canadian lifestyle the longer they are here, says the study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
While Chinese were the healthiest when they came here, their cardiovascular health took a nose-dive the more assimilated they became, said Maria Chiu, lead researcher of the Toronto-based Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences study.
"We found a negative acculturation effect, in that long-term residents of Ontario had worse cardiovascular risk profiles than recent immigrants, " said Chiu. "The greatest decline was observed in the Chinese group, followed by the white, black and South Asian groups."
Based on data from Statistics Canada's national health surveys between 1996 and 2007, the study included 163,797 participants: 154,653 white, 3,364 South Asian, 3,038 Chinese and 2,742 black.
The study compared the various risk factors between those who have been in Canada less than 15 and more than 15 years.
It said the increasing prevalence of diabetes most likely contributes to the decline in heart health for the Chinese and white groups. The obesity rate among longtime immigrants in those two groups is 30 to 40 per cent higher than their newcomer counterparts.
The declining heart health among the black and South Asian communities, however, is driven by increases in smoking, especially among females. The study found South Asian and black females who were born in Canada or lived in Canada for at least 15 years were 3 to 4 times more likely to be smokers.
The prevalence of smoking and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption also increased in most ethnic groups with increased length of residence in Canada.
"More acculturated immigrants have dietary patterns that more closely resemble the typical Western diet," the study said, "namely consumption of foods high in fat and added sugars, more frequent meals at Western fast-food restaurants, and eating between meals."
The saving grace of the assimilating lifestyle is that immigrants have also adopted the idea of working out, which helps improve heart health.
The study's findings confirm the daily observations by Dr. Chi-ming Chow, a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
"Immigrants look for their Canadian dreams and work hard to build a new home in Canada. They get busy, have no time to prepare healthy meals and are psychologically stressed as newcomers,” said Chow, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
"They have to keep up their old, healthy lifestyle or they won't have the health to enjoy their Canadian dreams."
Among black women, the prevalence of high blood pressure was significantly higher for longer-term residents (24.3%) than for newcomers (13.9%)
For South Asian females, those here more than 15 years were 3.6 times more likely to be smokers than newcomers
White and Chinese longer-term residents had a 30 to 40 per cent higher rate of obesity compared to their newcomer counterparts
Chinese males were significantly more likely to have diabetes after 15 years (4.8 per cent) compared to newcomers (1.7%)
Source: Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
- Toronto Star