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Australia’s young and new migrants are more prone to obesity, says study

Australian children of parents born abroad in poorer countries are more likely to be overweight or obese, compared to wealthier counterparts.

The sedentary lifestyle of migrants, triggered by high cost of organised sport, fear of racism, bullying and children’s safety can lead to obesity.

Obesity has become a significant issue in recent decades for people in wealthy nations like Australia.

But new research shows, in Australia, it is those youngest and newest to the country who can be particularly at risk.

Children in Australia whose mothers were in born in low- or middle-income countries are more likely to be overweight or obese than those born to mothers from wealthier countries such as Australia.

That is the finding of research out of the Australian National University involving data for thousands of Australian children between ages 4 and 11.

Ph.D candidate Tehzeeb Zulfiqar, who compiled the study, says targeted campaigns are required to help reverse the trend.

“Well, I think that what is required is to promote the healthier habits in this population, which is, like, high fruit-and-vegetable consumption, and added information about the issues related with sugar-sweetened beverages,” Ms Zulfiqar said.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin says cultural differences between Australia and other countries make some new migrant children vulnerable to the poor dietary habits which often lead to obesity.

“Newly arrived families are vulnerable to the heavy marketing, the cheap prices and the availablity of unhealthy food. They may have come from countries where they don't have the same access, and it's showing in the children's diet,” said Ms Martin.

Ms Zulfiqar says migrants would be helped in selecting an appropriate diet for their children if a proposed sugar tax becomes reality.

“As I've read recently with this sugar tax, that's going to benefit a lot. Not only Australians, but immigrant children, also. And promotion of physical activity. And I think that's something that may be able to make the difference,” added Ms Zulfiqar.

Ms Zulfiqar also nominates a sedentary lifestyle for many children of immigrants as a big reason for the increased obesity risk.

She says that, in turn, can be triggered by factors such as the high cost of organised sport, parents' concern for their children's safety and even the fear of racism and bullying.

She says that all makes it important for the children of migrants to end up in the right environment.

Najia Syed, a migrant from Pakistan, says her children were lucky enough to be in just such a situation after she moved to Australia in 2007.

She says she got most of her help and advice from fellow parents in her children's playgroup.

“I was fortunate enough to -- I mean, I was in Sydney -- I was fortunate enough to live in a community where the community was more integrated. So, I got the information from the playgroups, the mother's playgroups. The parents bonded really well. So, this is how I got to know what the rest of the parents were doing, what sort of activity. Because, when you arrive here, you don't have friends or family here, and you're actually trying very hard to get to know people and just trying to acclimatise with the culture itself,” Ms Syed said.

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