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New migrants at risk of Aussie fast food culture – study

20 April 20160 comments

New migrants to Australia generally eat more healthy diets than the locals but many are dragged into bad habits by Australia’s fast food culture, new research has found.

The study found new migrants were much more likely to eat together as a family than established Australians and nearly half avoid fast food entirely.

The study found that 67% of new arrivals surveyed ate vegetables every day and those who ate traditional meals were more likely to eat fresh vegetables every day. According to the National Health and Medical research Council (NHMRC) less than 10% of Australians eat the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables each day.

It found 83% of new migrants shared a meal with their family more than three days a week while just 66% of Australians on average regularly ate as a family.

The study found eight out of ten ate breakfast every day. This compares with other studies that have found less than half of Australians eat breakfast every day.

Titled: ‘What’s for Dinner? An exploration of changes in eating habits and dietary acculturation among new migrants to Australia’, the survey aimed to find out whether new migrants change their diet and eating habits after arriving in Australia.

Conducted by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia, the study found more than half (57%) consumed home cooked meals every day and more than a third (37%) rarely or never consumed soft drinks.

It found 47% of respondents never ate from one of the five top fast food chains – compared with 40% of locals*, while 41% had eaten from these food chains one or more times per week.

It also asked about exercise levels, health profiles and perceptions about the cost of food and where migrants shopped for food.

46% of respondents said they walked every day for exercise, the survey found.

40% of respondents stayed the same weight, while 38% had put on weight and 84% of respondents said that their health was good to excellent.

The survey found 63% of respondents purchased their fruit and vegetables from the supermarket; 51% thought the cost of food was expensive in Australia while 43% felt it was about right.

79% of respondents read food labels when buying packaged food.

Lead researcher Dr Lisa Thomson said the first two to three years after settlement were critical for new arrivals to maintain their traditional food habits.

“New migrants need to learn how to source foods in Australia but they are also influenced by local eating habits. This study has shown that new migrants face similar challenges to the general population in relation to food choices such as maintaining a healthy body weight and ensuring they get sufficient exercise,” she said.

“This study shows that new migrants engage in two protective factors for health and wellbeing, maintaining their traditional diet and eating as a family. However, it is concerning that there are significant numbers that consume soft drinks and eat at one of the five major fast food restaurants and least once a week.

“Generally speaking, migrants who come to Australia are healthier than the native population. The relative high cost of fresh food when compared with processed food, the limited availability of fresh food in some regions can have a significant impact upon the types of food choices new migrants people make.

“This means that the ‘healthy immigrant’ effect may only last for a short time particularly if they replace traditional foods with energy dense western-style food and move to more sedentary lifestyles.

“Healthy eating and exercise are good for disease prevention and are essential for health and wellbeing. AMES Australia is committed to helping new migrants settle in Australia. Learning what type of foods are available, where they can purchase familiar or traditional foods and how they can prepare food in a similar way to their home country is important for new arrivals,” Dr Thomson said.

Mirela Djekanovic and her daughter, enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

Mirela Djekanovic and her daughter, enjoying a healthy lifestyle.

Recent migrant Mirela Djekanovic said maintaining a healthy diet for herself and her family was a priority.

“Eating healthy food is important to me. It makes you feel better and obviously it is better for your health,” she said.

“I have a 19-month-old daughter and it is important to me that she learns healthy eating habits early.

“As a family we eat lots of fruit and vegetables every day and luckily my daughter loves broccoli and carrots,” said Mirela, who migrated from Bosnia two years ago.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist