Immigrants arrive healthy, but Canadian lifestyle takes a toll on their hearts

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Canada is one of the most culturally diverse high-income countries in the world and the diversity of the country can be attributed to the number of immigrants that arrive in the country each year.

In a new study that looks into the healthiness of immigrants and their susceptibility to heart diseases and other similar diseases, researchers have suggested that those immigrating to Canada are a lot healthier than residents in the country, but over a period of time the Canadian lifestyle takes a toll on the health of their hearts.

The research by scientists at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and the Sunnybrook Schulich Heart Centre looked into the immigrant population in Ontario and compared their risk of major cardiovascular events with that of long-term residents of similar ages.

Researchers found that immigrant population is 30 per cent lower risk of major cardiovascular events as compared to the residents. However, researchers also found that this particular trend wasn’t uniform across the eight major ethnic groups, with a four-fold difference from best to worst. Further, the researchers also found that this ‘healthy immigrant effect’ diminishes as the immigrants spend more time in the country.

For the study, researchers collected and linked information from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Permanent Resident database to nine population-based health databases. They then examined the 10-year incidence of major cardiovascular events like heart attack, stroke, angioplasty, bypass surgery or cardiovascular death of more than 800,000 first-generation immigrant adults who immigrated to Ontario in 1985 or later.

The categorised the information based on age groups, sex, ethnic groups and countries in which the immigrants were born. They then compared this information to a group of over five million long-term Ontario residents, predominantly white, born in Canada.

Beyond the major ‘healthy immigrant effect’ finding, researchers also found that most of the immigrant community were less likely to smoke and be obese than long-term Ontarians. Within the ethnic groups, East Asians – predominantly Chinese – had the lowest incidence of major cardiovascular events overall. But, those who spent more than 10 years in Canada, the rates of cardiovascular events increased by 40 per cent in males and 60 per cent in females.

As far as the South Asian immigrants are concerned, they had the highest incidence rates overall along with immigrants born in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Researchers also found that there was a strong association between the overall prevalence of traditional cardiac risk factors (smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol) in the different ethnic groups and cardiovascular event rates.

The results of the Cardiovascular Health in Ambulatory Care Research Team (CANHEART) Immigrant study, a “big data” initiative, are published online in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.