Abstract

Skip to text

Text begins

Background

New immigrants to Canada initially report better health than does the Canadian-born population.  With time, this "healthy immigrant effect" appears to diminish.  Limited ability to speak English or French has been identified as a possible factor in poor health.  This analysis explored the relationship between self-reported official language proficiency and transitions to poor self-reported health.

Data and methods

Statistics Canada's Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada tracked a sample of the 2001 immigrant cohort for four years (6, 24 and 48 months after arrival).  Data from each of the three survey waves were available for 7,716 respondents.  Bivariate and multivariate analysis were used to examine associations between official language proficiency and self-reported health, by sex, controlling for selected pre-migration and post-migration factors.  The prevalence of poor health among immigrants was compared with rates among the Canadian-born population, based on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Results

Among a representative sample of recent immigrants, the prevalence of poor self-reported health had risen substantially, especially among women, after four years in Canada.  Prolonged limited official language proficiency was strongly associated with a transition to poor health among male and female immigrants who had earlier reported good health.  Other factors significantly associated with an increase in the prevalence of poor self-reported health differed by sex.  Refugee status, self-reported discrimination, and living in Vancouver were significant for men.  Age, health care access problems, and limited friendliness of neighbours were significant for women.

Keywords

Health services accessibility, health status, healthy immigrant effect, immigration, longitudinal studies, medical geography

Findings

When immigrants arrive in Canada, they are typically in better health than their Canadian-born counterparts. However, this "healthy immigrant effect" may gradually diminish. The transition to poorer health has been found in general self-reported health, mental health status, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and birth and death outcomes. A wide variety of pre- and post-immigration demographic, socio-economic and behavioural factors have been proposed as contributors to this health decline, among which is the individual's ability to function in the language of the new country. [Full Text]

Authors

Edward Ng (1-613-951-5308; edward.ng@statcan.gc.ca) is with the Health Analysis Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0T6.  Kevin Pottie and Denise Spitzer are with the University of Ottawa.

What is already known on this subject?

  • In cross-sectional analyses, limited official language proficiency—the inability to speak English or French—has been associated with the reporting of poor health among recent immigrants. 

What does this study add?

  • This is the first longitudinal Canadian study to examine the role of persistent limited language proficiency on immigrant health.
  • For both sexes, persistently limited proficiency in English or French among recent immigrants was strongly associated with an increase in the prevalence of poor self-reported health.
  • Those who reported gaining language proficiency had a health outcome similar to those reporting persistently good proficiency.
  • Other factors associated with an increase in the prevalence of poor self-reported health differed by sex: refugee status, self-reported discrimination, and living in Vancouver were significant for men; older age, reported health care access problems, and limited friendliness of neighbours were significant for women.
Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: