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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dynamics of Immigrants' Health in Canada: Evidence from the National Population Health Survey

1994/95 to 2002/03 

Recent immigrants from non-European countries were twice as likely as the Canadian-born to report deterioration in their health over an eight year period, according to a new study using longitudinal data.

When immigrants arrive in Canada, they are generally in better health than the Canadian-born population. An earlier study found that 97% of new immigrants rated their health as good, very good or excellent six months after their arrival, compared with 88% for the general population. However, as time passes, this so-called "healthy immigrant effect" tends to diminish as their health status converges with that of the general population.

This new study followed initially healthy individuals across five waves of longitudinal data from the National Population Health Survey (NPHS). It showed that between 1994/95 and 2002/03, immigrants in general were more likely than the Canadian-born population to report a shift towards fair or poor health. Moreover, recent immigrants from non-European countries who arrived in Canada between 1984 and 1994 were twice as likely as Canadian-born to report deterioration in their health during the study period.

This might suggest that these recent immigrants from non-European countries, who were initially healthy in 1994/95, adopt some unhealthy lifestyles in the process of adapting to a new culture. Indeed, the study found that these immigrants were almost twice as likely as Canadian-born to have a 10% or more increase in their body mass index. This index is a measure to determine a person's weight relative to his or her height. An increase in this index reflects a weight gain, which might be harmful for one's health.

As for daily smoking, no corresponding evidence was found as non-European immigrants overall were less likely than the Canadian-born to become daily smokers.

The fact that recent non-European immigrants were at higher risk of experiencing deterioration in their health is mirrored in their greater likelihood of becoming frequent visitors to the doctor (at least six consultations a year).

This longitudinal analysis accounted for differences in age, sex and socio-economic status, specifically, education levels and household income, as reported by respondents in 1994/95. These factors also tended to be significantly associated with deterioration in self-reported health status.

Immigrants overall make up an increasing share of the total population (18.4% in 2001) and without sufficient immigration to compensate for below-replacement fertility, the Canadian population could start to decline in about 30 years. Moreover, immigrants from non-European countries constitute an increasingly important segment of Canadian society, as about three-quarters of recent immigrants come from non-European nations.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3225.

This release is based on the article Dynamics of Immigrants' Health in Canada: Evidence from the National Population Health Survey (82-618-MWE2005002, free), which is now available online. This article is the second of four to be released in the Internet publication Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow? Findings from the National Population Health Survey (82-618-MWE, free). The next articles will be on healthy ageing and obesity.

For more information or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Edward Ng (613-951-5308;, Health Analysis and Measurement Group.

NPHS micro data are available at Statistics Canada's Research Data Centres. For more information, visit The Research Data Centres Program page of our Web site.

To order custom tabulations, contact Client Services (613-951-1746;, Health Statistics Division.

For further information on the Household Component of NPHS, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality, contact Mario Bédard (613-951-8933; or France Bilocq (613-951-6956;, Health Statistics Division.

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Date Modified: 2005-02-23 Important Notices