Despite her best efforts, Momina finds it difficult to keep her children active and provide them with healthy food. The biggest hurdle for this single mother, who came to Canada from Pakistan about seven years ago, is the cost of things.
Reza, who lives in Hamilton, Ontario’s Riverdale neighborhood, told CBC News, “I ask about different product programs and prices, they’re too expensive, I can’t afford it.”
Reza said her two children, aged 11 and 5, are “doing well”, but admits she has to “struggle” to provide them with nutritious food.
And for other immigrants like her, Reza said language barriers and long working hours can make it difficult for parents to encourage children to participate in extracurricular activities.
Pediatrician Dr. McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton. Geeta Wahi told CBC News that such barriers may contribute to health problems seen in newborns.
Wahi said, through professional work, he has noticed an increasing number of newborns suffering from obesity and type-2 diabetes.
“Especially with childhood obesity, we’ve seen that obesity rates in newcomer children are often low before they come here, and obesity rates increase over time to reach current rates in the Canadian population,” he said.
He is not the only person to point this out.
Emerging research in recent years has found that the living environment among immigrant children in Canada is also contributing to complex health problems in adulthood.
A recent Canadian study highlighted the health immigrant effect, where an immigrant’s health deteriorates after settling in a new country.
It’s unclear whether the same phenomenon is occurring in children coming to Canada from other countries, but the researchers say there are trends that suggest poor health among some young immigrants.
Professor of Medicine at McMaster University. Sonia Anand describes the prevalence of adult-onset complex health problems, such as diabetes, among newborns from diverse ethnic backgrounds as an “alarming observation”.
“If a child has a complex disease, it will affect their future health and may even shorten their life,” he told CBC News. So I consider it an urgent issue.”
Some of the risk factors include the child’s ethnic background, his family’s socioeconomic status, availability of nutritious food and level of manual labor, Anand said.
Immigrant children experience rapid health decline after arriving in Canada
Meanwhile, a report by TheConversation.com says, poverty-free, healthy and happy futures: this is what many new immigrants and refugees to Canada and the United States hope for. Leaving the harsh conditions and poor diet behind, they embraced the security and relative prosperity offered by North America. But few could imagine that migration would destroy their families’ well-being and rapidly lead to ill health.
The report was prepared by University of Saskatchewan Public Health Professor Hasan Bhatanparast and University of Saskatchewan Public Health Postdoctoral Fellow Jeannie Lane.
Still, research studies over the past 15 years have shown that immigrants are in better health than Canadians—fewer with more complex diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes—but their health worsens the longer they stay in Canada, they said.
This deterioration of health also applies to children. As a professor and postdoctoral fellow in the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health and College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, we recently conducted Canada’s first integrated research project examining the health of immigrant and refugee children upon arrival.
The study, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, found that many of those children had several health concerns and nutritional deficiencies.
High blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol
“Our study involved 300 immigrant and refugee children in the Saskatoon and Regina regions of Saskatchewan,” said Hasan Bhatanparast and Ginny Lane.
It can be seen from the examination, these newly born children often adopt western diet and lazy lifestyle. Some parents are unaware of the dangers of overeating children and the high calorie Western diet.
Overall, it was found that blood pressure reached threshold or higher levels among newborns Ñ significantly higher than Canadian children.
36 percent of the children in our study had inadequate intake of zinc, which is essential for growth and development.
52 percent of children have unhealthy levels of cholesterol, compared to only 35 percent of Canadian children. It is worth noting that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for increased stress.
Other studies have shown that some groups, such as South Asian immigrants—particularly women—are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure the longer they live in Canada.
Non-European newcomers also experienced significant deterioration in self-rated health and increased body mass index (BMI) over time compared to Canadian-born individuals.
Poverty and underemployment
Why this deterioration of health? Hassan Bhatanparast and Jeannie Lane said in their report that Canada offers relatively abundant food, affordable health care and a standard of living that is among the highest in the world. So the results of the research may appear to be contrary to the prevailing opinion.
The answer lies in both the conditions migrants and refugees leave behind and the conditions they find themselves in upon arrival.
Some immigrants find their earlier dreams dashed by the conditions here. They live in relative poverty, with no career advancement opportunities in jobs that fail to utilize their experience and potential. Some come to Canada as highly qualified professionals, optimistic about their prospects in a new country, but unable to find meaningful, well-paying jobs. Some immigrants who dreamed of a middle-class lifestyle found themselves struggling at the lowest levels of the economy due to language and educational barriers.
The stress of adjusting to life in Canada takes its toll on the health of many immigrant families. Many lose their social support networks as a result of migration. Access to culturally appropriate health care can also be difficult for them.
Live for survival
We spoke with numerous immigrants and health care workers about newcomers’ health, diet and lifestyle. Many newcomers spoke of their hopes for a better quality of life in Canada and the daily struggles they face to achieve it.
Some have become disillusioned with life in Canada due to the hardships they have to go through to achieve the expected lifestyle or desired life.
Commenting on the growing number of food insecure migrants, one service worker said, “Migrants and refugees are in a state of survival as doctors, engineers and professors push shopping carts.”
Research shows that health disparities between racial groups can be reduced when individuals are able to achieve desirable levels of socioeconomic goals. As such, living on a low income for long periods of time can lead to cravings for junk food and can contribute to physical and mental health problems.
Abundance of food
It can be difficult for refugee children who are familiar with hunger to control their appetite.
“A lot of people change their diet,” says a health care worker in Regina. That’s why they gain a lot of weight. There is plenty of food here.”
“Often children who get little food in refugee camps come here and eat too much,” added one migrant service worker.
Another issue is that in many cultures, obese children are considered healthy. One family told us that eating meat was once a luxury for them, eating meat once or twice a month. Now they find it both desirable and necessary.