Migration and non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

NCDs are increasing globally and can no longer be considered as only diseases of the rich. In South Asia, NCDs now account for 50 per cent of the total disease burden (Engelgau and others 2011). The determinants of NCDs are largely social and environmental, and a growing body of research points to the significant impact of migration, globalization and urbanization as the risk factors for NCDs.

As Davies and other (2011) explain, as part of the acculturation process when they move to new societies, migrants may adopt unhealthy lifestyle habits including poor diet and physical inactivity, which increase their risk for NCDs, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Indeed, one study of Indian migrants living in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has shown that increased fat intake and obesity place them at increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to their non-migrant counterparts in India (Patel and others 2006).

Stressful working and living conditions in the destination country may also increase their use of tobacco, or promote alcohol and substance abuse (Davies and others 2011a). In a study of CHD risk factors among Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants living in Europe, Indian men were found to be more likely to drink alcohol while abroad and Bangladeshi men were more likely to smoke. Compared to their European counterparts, the overall risk of CHD was higher among all three migrant groups (Bhopal and others 1999).

Given the increased mobility of people in and between societies with differing health and demographic profiles, NCD prevention in South Asia and in destination countries of South Asian migrants should be comprehensive and take into consideration the socio-cultural factors and impact of migration on risk factors for NCDs.