Immigrant women give birth to larger babies than women in their country of origin, according to a study by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Joel Ray (John Markos O’Neill)
A study by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Joel Ray finds that immigrant women give birth to larger babies than women from their native country, but still smaller than babies born to Canadian-born women.
The study, which appears in the journal of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, finds that male babies of immigrant women weigh on average 115 grams more than babies in the immigrant woman’s country of origin, while female babies weight 112 grams more.
The cause of the weight difference is likely the higher income of Canadian immigrants compared to the population they immigrated from, due to selective immigration rules that require high education and career achievements to qualify for immigration to Canada, according to Dr. Ray.
Dr. Ray writes that the difference could also be due to immigrants consuming more calories and getting less exercise than when they lived in their native countries, resulting in both them and their babies being bigger.
Previous studies have shown that Canadian immigrants have better health indicators than the average Canadian upon arriving in the country, but that their health status quickly degrades as they stay in Canada longer.
A study by Louisa Taylor under a fellowship from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research has found that Canadian immigrants are healthier than the average Canadian when they first arrive to Canada, but subsequently see a rapid decline in their health.
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, she writes:
Since the 1990s a growing body of data has suggested that most newcomers arrive in Canada healthier than the native-born population, only to have that advantage erode over time. New immigrants tend to live longer than the Canadian-born population, but within a decade of resettlement, their mortality rates creep up, as do their rates of chronic disease. In looking at almost a decade of data in its biannual National Population Health Survey, Statistics Canada also found immigrants were almost twice as likely as native-born Canadians to report feeling unwell. Recent non-European immigrants — the largest proportion of newcomers we currently admit — were the most likely to report their health declining from good or excellent to fair or poor.
This phenomenon of declining health upon immigration is known as the ‘healthy immigrant effect’.
Immigrants from the US and Europe see a smaller healthy immigrant effect, while those from India, China and the Philippines, see a much larger effect, and have significantly higher rates of chronic diseases than the general population.
Some possible causes that Taylor suggests could be behind the healthy immigrant effect are:
A high number of recent immigrants are non-Caucasians, who have ethnicity-specific diseases that Canadian medical practitioners are not accustomed to treating
Many recent immigrants come from countries where preventive care is uncommon, and therefore do not respond to calls by Canadian health agencies to make use of preventive health care
Many immigrants from non-Western countries having difficulty communicating with medical practitioners due to cultural and language barriers
Taylor writes that practitioners are beginning to better understand the unique needs of newly arrived immigrants groups and are collaborating to form better strategies to help them maintain their health.