A comprehensive study by University of Saskatchewan found that many newcomers embracing a western diet and lifestyle are on their way to developing chronic health problems within five years of their arrival.
The researchers studied the health of 300 immigrant and refugee children in Saskatoon and Regina.
“Refugee children are at risk of stunted growth and high cholesterol, while immigrant children are more at risk of being overweight or obese,” said Dr. Hassan Vatanparast, a professor in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition and the School of Public Health, who led the study.
Previous studies have shown that adult newcomers arrive in better health than Canadians, but their health status declines most in the first five years and eventually is comparable to the general population.
Vatanparast and four other researchers published a paper on their findings earlier this year in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
Of particular concern is that 36 per cent of refugee children had an inadequate intake of zinc, while 23 per cent of immigrant kids fell short.
About three per cent of Canadian children were deficient in zinc, which is essential for growth and development.
Newcomers also had an inadequate intake of vitamin D, important for bone growth. The study found 44 per cent of refugee children and 38 per cent of immigrant kids had low bone mineral content for their age, gender, and ethnicity.
Nearly half (49 per cent) of the immigrant families were from the Middle East, and most of the refugees in the study (69 per cent) were from Southeast Asian countries.
These findings point to the need for public health and social services systems to consider social factors affecting families in designing and delivering culturally sensitive screening and health promotion programs to prevent chronic health issues among new Canadians, Vatanparast said.
And what about average Canadians? I guess their nutrition doesn't count.