Migration, Assimilation, and Chronic Disease Among Refugees in Belgium
Solveig Cunningham, Emory University
Hadewijch Vandenheede, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Refugees and asylum-seekers tend to be even more disadvantaged than other immigrants, having lower levels of education, social connections, and poorer health. Research on foreign-born people, especially in North America, has shown deterioration in health with years since resettlement, most markedly in terms of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases; research in Europe has also shown higher levels of diabetes-related mortality among foreign-born people. The origins of these risks are not well understood, but a leading explanation has been acculturation, a process through which immigrants adopt new products, values, and behaviors that may be detrimental to health. Whether these patterns also hold for refugees is unclear. This study examines how health-related behaviors change after resettlement in Belgium, a leading recipient of refugees and immigrants. We adapted previously-developed survey instruments for data collection about health behavior changes and health. We collected data in Brussels in 2017 in English or Arabic using venue-based sampling. The 60 adult respondents were from 23 countries and had lived in Belgium on average 8 years. Respondents had generally positive perceptions of their health; still, 5% reported having been diagnosed with diabetes, 5% with heart disease, and 12% with hypertension; 13% assessed themselves as underweight and 5% as obese. Respondents spent more than 2 hours per day being active, but also another two hours in inactive screen-viewing. About a third of respondents did not report any changes in diets since arrival; among the rest, Belgian street foods were the most commonly listed foods adopted after resettlement; many reported changes in the types of grains consumed; still, many people also reported having adopted some new healthy items - vegetables, fruits, pastas. The main considerations in changing food habits among refugee families have to do with ease of finding foods. Respondents demonstrated accurate knowledge of what is healthy and unhealthy.