Did you know that 1 in 4 Australians were born overseas and 1 in 2 Australians have a parent who were born overseas? We are a multi-cultural country and from a food point of view this has introduced us to magnificent food variety and flavours. Think of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, French, Italian, Greek food and more. These foods and ingredient items are readily available throughout most suburbs in supermarkets and restaurants.
Food issues for refugees
However, we consult with many refugees from other countries who have recently arrived in Australia under difficult circumstances. Their traditional food choices may not be readily available. This and other issues can lead to dietary, mental, and physical health problems. These issues may include:
- Low income
- Difficulty in accessing traditional foods
- Transport difficulties to access shops and supermarkets
- Language/literacy and numeracy difficulties
- Change in shopping practices
- Religious, faith-based foods not being readily available
- Change in food preparation, equipment and more
Because of the reasons above, many refugees are prone to choose highly marketed, convenience foods that are high in risk nutrients: fat, sugar and sodium. As a result they may put on weight which can impact their mental and physical health.
How we work with refugees
As nutritionists and dietitians it is our role to personalise advice based on the current dietary health needs of each patient. This is why cookie cutter solutions do not work. There is no “one size fits all” solution. We need to ask what traditional foods each patient eats, what local foods they have tried and like since arriving in Australia and what difficulties they may face when shopping and cooking their meals. Questions such as these are crucial in working with each patient to overcome obstacles and help them reach their health goals.
Body composition among ethnic groups
There are also ethnic differences in body composition which we need to consider. South Asians, for example, have higher levels of body fat and are more prone to developing abdominal obesity than Caucasians with the same BMI. This may be associated with a high risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that Blacks have lower body fat and higher muscle mass than Caucasians with the same BMI, lowering their risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So use of the commonly used BMI categories is not appropriate for the comparison of weight and disease risk between different ethnic groups.
The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees that the BMI should be different for different ethnic groups, however researchers cannot agree on what these points should be so no new standards have been set.
Our goal is to make sure every new immigrant/refugee we consult with feels included in their new country and their traditional diet, personal set of circumstances and ethnicity are considered when assessing and managing their dietary health. Food and dietary habits are a deeply personal issue so empathy, understanding and education is key to helping our patients reach their health goals and be confident in their food choices.
Written by Lisa Stegena, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.