A review of ethnicity, health and nutrition-related diseases in relation to migration in the United Kingdom

Public Health Nutr. 2001 Apr;4(2B):647-57. doi: 10.1079/phn2001148.


Objectives: To identify lessons from and gaps in research on diet-disease links among former migrants in the United Kingdom (UK).

Results: Migrant status and self-identified ethnicity do not match so these terms mask differences in social, nutritional and health status within and between population groups. Some former migrants differ in causes of death from the general population, e.g.: fewer coronary heart disease deaths among Caribbean-born; fewer cancer deaths among Caribbean, South Asian- and East African-born adults. Irish- and Scottish-born have higher mortality from all causes. Experience of risk factors differ also, e.g.: higher prevalences of hypertension and diabetes in Caribbean- and South Asian-born adults than representative samples of the general population; obesity and raised waist-hip circumference ratios in South Asian, African-Caribbean and some Irish-born adults. Former migrants experience long-term disadvantage, associated with more self-defined illness and lower reported physical activity. Nutrient intake data from the few, recent, small-scale studies must be interpreted with caution due to methodological diversity. However, second generation offspring of former migrants appear to adopt British dietary patterns, increasing fat and reducing vegetable, fruit and pulse consumption compared with first generation migrants.

Conclusions: There is insufficient evidence on why some former migrants but not others experience lower specific mortality than the general population. Dietary intake variations provide important clues particularly when examined by age and migration status. Majority ethnic and younger migrant groups could raise and sustain high fruit and vegetable intakes but lower proportions of fat, by adopting many dietary practices from older migrants. Objective measures of physical activity and longitudinal studies of diets among different ethnic groups are needed to explain diversity in health outcomes and provide for evidence-based action.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa / ethnology
  • Age Distribution
  • Asia / ethnology
  • Caribbean Region / ethnology
  • Cause of Death
  • Diet*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise
  • Food Preferences / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Ireland / ethnology
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Obesity / mortality*
  • Risk Factors
  • Scotland / ethnology
  • Transients and Migrants
  • United Kingdom