Canadian Immigrants See Declining Health After Arriving

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.

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