The increasing population diversity in Europe demands clarification of possible ethnic influences on the growth and health of immigrant children and their psychosocial adaptation to the host countries. This article assesses recent data on immigrant children in Europe in comparison to European natives by means of a systematic review of the literature on growth patterns and data on children's health and adaptation. There were wide variations across countries in growth patterns and development of immigrant children and natives, with different trends in Central and Northern Europe with respect to Southern Europe. In general, age at menarche was lower in immigrant girls, while male pubertal progression seemed faster in immigrants than in European natives, even when puberty began after. Owing to the significant differences in anthropometric traits (mainly stature and weight), new reference growth curves for immigrant children were constructed for the largest minority groups in Central Europe. Possible negative effects on growth, health and psychosocial adaptation were pointed out for immigrant children living in low income, disadvantaged communities with a high prevalence of poor lifestyle habits. In conclusion, this review provides a framework for the health and growth of immigrant children in Europe in comparison to native-born children: the differences among European countries in growth and development of migrants and non-migrants are closely related to the clear anthropological differences among the ethnic groups due to genetic influences. Higher morbidity and mortality was frequently associated with the minority status of these children and their low socio-economic status. The observed ethnic differences in health reveal the need for adequate health care in all groups. Therefore, we provide suggestions for the development of health care strategies in Europe.
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.