Foreign workers 'fitter than Brit counterparts'

People born abroad and now working in the UK are healthier in both mind and body than the indigenous population, according to a report from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

Happy workers
An analysis of research data compiled over several years showed that, in 2019, 27% of the foreign-born population reported a long-lasting health problem compared to 42% of the UK-born population.

Migrant health outcomes do vary depending on other factors

However, the report found wide variations within the migrant populations depending on factors such as whether a person was in a professional or low-skilled job, their age and whereabouts in the world they came from."Those who decide to migrate tend to be younger and healthier than those who stay behind and, at the same time, the healthiest migrants are more likely to stay in their new destination rather than returning to their origin countries."Despite this general trend, the migrant population is made up of many different groups with different characteristics, and some groups might have worse health outcomes than the average."For example, people who migrated for employment, family and study reasons have better health than the UK born, while those who migrated to seek asylum have worse health outcomes."

Migrant health advantages disappear after years of living in the UK

The report said that one reason the foreign born were healthier than native Brits was the fact migrants tended to be younger. Indeed, after 15 years of living in the UK, the overseas health advantage had all but disappeared.For example, the rate of health problems of people born in Pakistan and other South Asian countries (excluding India) aged under 35 was half that of the equivalent age group in the British-born population.But in 50-64 age group, those from Pakistanis and other South Asians had a higher rate of activity-limiting illnesses than the indigenous population, mainly as a result of the high incidence of diabetes.

Unsuprisingly those in highly-skilled jobs have fewer health problems

The report also said that both migrants and the UK-born in high-skilled jobs were less likely to say they had a limiting health problem than those in low-skilled jobs."It is widely recognised that people with higher incomes or other measures of socio-economic status have better health outcomes. The reasons for this are complex and not just explained by a single factor," said the report."Some low-skilled jobs increase the risk of experiencing health problems because they are physically intensive and have poor working conditions (eg, cleaning, construction), or because low incomes mean that they are less able to purchase goods and services to improve their health."In addition, people that are unable to move out of low-skilled and low-paid jobs are more likely to experience chronic stress due to their socioeconomic situation, which ultimately affects their overall health. Causation may also run the other way: poor health may affect economic outcomes if it limits people’s ability to work."

Mental health: slightly fewer problems reported among migrants to the UK

On mental health, the analysis found that the share of the population reporting a long-lasting problem, such as depression, stood at 10% among those born in the UK and 5% among migrants.The prevalence of mental health problems was the highest among people over the age of 50. Among this age group, the highest prevalence was found among the population born in Middle East, Central Asia and North African countries (11%), the UK born (9%) and among the population born in Pakistan and other South Asian countries (8%).As for smoking, male migrants were found to be more likely to smoke than their British counterparts, but the opposite was true among women. Residents born in the most recent EU accession countries had the highest share of smokers while those born in India had the lowest."Migrants’ health is shaped by a wide range of factors, ranging from their pre-migration experiences; their experiences during and after migration to the UK; their work, education and socio-economic status; and their ethnicity, which affects the prevalence of certain health conditions," concluded the observatory.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted, or visit our health and wellbeing section. 

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