Migrant Health

Migrant Australians are Healthier than the Australian-born

According to the 2001 census, just over one fifth (22%) of the Australian population is born overseas. Most foreign born immigrants come from the UK (1,036,245), followed by New Zealand (355,765); Italy (218,718); Vietnam (154,831); China (142,780); Greece (116,431) and Germany (108,220). The most common foreign ancestry reported was English (33.9%), followed by Irish (10.2%), Italian (4.3%), German (4%), Chinese (3%), Scottish (2.9%) and Greek (2%).

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 8th biennial report "Australian Health Inequalities" concluded that death rates for migrants were 10 to 15% lower during the 1990s than those born in Australia. However, this is against a backdrop of remarkable improvements in longevity and reduction in disability in the Australian population as a whole, as judged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 'Disability Aadjusted Life Expectancy' (DALE). Australia is the only English speaking country in the top 10 on the DALE scale, and is second to Japan ..... more

A senior analyst at the institute (Michael de Looper) reported in the AGE (26/7/2002) that "the longer migrants live in Australia, the more their health advantages disappear and start to match Australian levels as a whole. One of the costs of acculturation is the lost health advantages ......previous research has shown that the healthiness enjoyed by first generation migrants quickly faded in their children".

Asian-born Australians are the healthiest, followed by people born in Europe. Asian-born men were 46% less likely to die from colorectal cancer and 25% less likely to die from coronary heart disease. Diet and other lifestyle factors have contributed to the better health of migrants, but the main reason appears to be due to 'selection effects'. The migration process itself tends to be highly selective for health, both explicitly by the health criteria applied by the Australian Government to people seeking to migrate to Australia and also because people who are in poor health are less likely to have the ability and economic resources to migrate.

HEC's Professor Mark Wahlqvist was also interviewed about this report and was quoted in the AGE (26/7/2002) "that migration had greatly improved the health of all Australians, especially through better diet" and that this "had helped Australia reach second place after Japan on the WHO scale of DALE.

To read more about this:

Healthy Eating Club's Professor Mark Wahlqvist and Dr Antigone Kouris-Blazos have studied the diet, health and survival of Greek Australian migrants; publications
are as follows:

Kouris-Blazos A, Wahlqvist M, Wattanapenpaiboon N. 'Morbidity mortality paradox' of Greek-born Australians: possible dietary contributors. Australian Journal Nutrition and Dietetics, 1999; 56 (2): 97-107; on-line abstract

Kouris-Blazos A, Wahlqvist ML, Trichopoulou A, Polychronopoulos E, Trichopoulos D. Health & Nutritional Status of elderly Greek migrants to Melbourne, Australia. Age Ageing 1996; 25: 177-189.(on-line abstract)

Trichopoulou A, Kouris-Blazos A, Wahlqvist ML, Gnardellis Ch, Lagiou P, Polychronopoulos E, Vassilakou T, Lipworth L, & Trichopoulos D. Diet and overall survival in elderly people. British Medical Journal 1995; 311 (7018): 1457-1460 (on-line full text article)

Wahlqvist M, Kouris-Blazos A, Wattanapenpaiboon N. The significance of eating patterns: an elderly Greek case study. Appetite 1999; 32: 23-32; on-line full-text article

Other resources on the Australian Migrant experience:

Book written by journalist Mr Alfred Kouris on Greek migrants in Australia (primarily a social history with reference to dietary changes on migration) http://www.angelfire.com/ak/kouris

Last Updated: August 2002.