Dynamics of Immigrants' Health in Canada: Evidence from the National Population Health Survey
|By:||Edward Ng, Russell Wilkins, François Gendron and Jean-Marie Berthelot|
Statistics Canada reports that recent immigrants from non-European countries were twice as likely as the Canadian-born to report deterioration in their health over an eight year period.
When immigrants arrive in Canada, they are generally in better health than the Canadian-born population. An earlier study found that 97% of new immigrants rated their health as good, very good or excellent six months after their arrival, compared with 88% for the general population. However, as time passes, this so-called "healthy immigrant effect" tends to diminish as their health status converges with that of the general population.
This new study followed initially healthy individuals across five waves of longitudinal data from the National Population Health Survey (NPHS). It showed that between 1994/95 and 2002/03, immigrants in general were more likely than the Canadian-born population to report a shift towards fair or poor health. Moreover, recent immigrants from non-European countries who arrived in Canada between 1984 and 1994 were twice as likely as Canadian-born to report deterioration in their health during the study period.
This might suggest that these recent immigrants from non-European countries, who were initially healthy in 1994/95, adopt some unhealthy lifestyles in the process of adapting to a new culture. Indeed, the study found that these immigrants were almost twice as likely as Canadian-born to have a 10% or more increase in their body mass index. This index is a measure to determine a person's weight relative to his or her height. An increase in this index reflects a weight gain, which might be harmful for one's health.
Longitudinal data from five cycles of the National Population Health Survey show that over the period 1994/95 to 2002/03, immigrants in general were more likely than the Canadian-born population to report a change from good, very good or excellent health to fair or poor health. However, this deterioration applied only to immigrants with non-European origins, especially those who had arrived since the mid-1980s. European immigrants, by contrast, were similar to the Canadian-born with regard to health transitions. A concomitant increase in the frequency with which recent non-European immigrants consulted physicians suggests that the loss of health was real, and not merely an artefact of cultural or subjective differences in the perception of health status.
Almost by definition, the process of immigration is stressful and disruptive, involving the loss of the support network of family and friends in the country of origin. But while lack of social support was, indeed, a risk factor for a decline in health.
The likelihood of a deterioration in health was also related to socio-economic status, specifically, low education and low household income.
This longitudinal analysis accounted for differences in age, sex and socio-economic status, specifically, education levels and household income, as reported by respondents in 1994/95. These factors also tended to be significantly associated with deterioration in self-reported health status.
The relationship between immigration and health transitions is highly complex, involving not only socio-economic, cultural, behavioural, environmental and biological factors, but also pre-immigration history. Most of these variables are beyond the scope of this analysis. Nonetheless, data on lifestyle are somewhat indicative.