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Migration and Health: A Review of the International Literature

Author(s): A. Ellaway L. McKay S. Macintyre

This report provides a comprehensive review of primary literature on internal and international migration and health. The review investigates the morbidity or mortality rates of many immigrant groups (including children) from around the world moving between different countries or within a country. The report shows that many factors affect the process of migration and thus effect migrant mortality and morbidity rates. Variations in rates over time are generally a product of environment, historically determined style of life (for example, diet, smoking, alcohol, family size, fertility, social interactions) and genetics. Some of these factors act early in life and their effects endure, while others may act also in adult life. Cancers may have ‘initiators' that act early in life and ‘promoters' that act later. Migration is further complicated by the fact that it is not necessarily a random process; the ‘selection' of migrants may influence health and disease risk. However, this effect could disappear with time and in the second generation. Migrants do not necessarily display worse mental or cardiovascular health than non-migrants. However, migrants generally tend to exhibit disadvantaged risk factor profiles and are more frequently subject to hypertension, chronic conditions, and obesity. They are therefore a vulnerable group and will benefit from social support, and specific preventive strategies which may differ from those relevant to the host population. Where migrant groups show positive results, such findings should aid further investigations into improving the health status of  disadvantaged migrant groups.


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Author(s): A. Ellaway L. McKay S. Macintyre


MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow


January 2003

Main theme(s):

Independent Child Migration Migration with Families

Sub-theme(s): Internal South - North

Tertiary theme(s): Asylum-Refugees Economic Forced Migration

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Keywords: Benefits Discrimination Family Gender Health Healthcare HIV/AIDS Mental health Mortality Policy Policy discourse Poverty


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