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Scott Lear

Study finds Canadian life deadly for immigrants

November 27, 2008

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A new study led by SFU researcher Scott Lear suggests that the longer immigrants remain in Canada, the worse their cardiovascular health becomes.

"The health of immigrants coming to Canada from China, South Asia or Europe worsens with each decade they stay in the country," says Lear, who reported his research team’s findings during the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto Oct. 25-26.

The high stress of re-establishing in a new country, changing eating habits and language barriers that may impede access to proper health services are potential contributors to the immigrant’s heart-health decline, the study suggests.

Lear says that while immigrants are typically in good health when they arrive in Canada and even tend to have healthier hearts than native-born Canadians, their cardiovascular risk increases as time goes on.

"Immigrants are working two or three jobs when they first come here. They are striving to establish their families, and this is not easy. They tend to be disenfranchised from medical services and health care. Language is a big barrier for some, and cultural barriers are huge challenges, too."

Lear and his research team used ultrasound to measure atherosclerosis—a narrowing of the arteries, and a leading contributor to heart disease and stroke—in 618 Chinese, South Asian and European Canadians, of whom 460 were immigrants.

The researchers found that the narrowing or thickening of arteries progressed as their time in Canada increased. Lear says that for immigrants, time in Canada was a powerful potential risk factor regardless of age and other risk factors.

"There is something going on here – immigrants appear to be at a high risk, as far as the potential for heart disease is concerned, and should be targeted for prevention strategies."

Lear notes that Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada’s information about heart disease and stroke risk factors is now published in other languages.

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