A systematic review of acculturation, obesity and health behaviours among migrants to high-income countries

Psychol Health. 2018 Jun;33(6):724-745. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2017.1398327. Epub 2017 Nov 24.


Objective There is extensive evidence for weight gain among people migrating from low/middle-income to high-income countries, which may be due, in part, to acculturation factors. This review aimed to identify associations between acculturation and body weight among immigrants to high-income countries and identify if studies accounted for the role played by health behaviours. Methods A systematic literature search using keywords was performed with three databases (Medline, PsychINFO and EMBASE). The 35 studies were included that utilised quantitative methodology and presented empirical findings focused on acculturation and body weight among adult immigrants. Findings There was evidence presented across multiple studies for an association between acculturation (measured with standard measures or as duration of stay) and obesity. Most studies were cross sectional, which did not allow the exploration of drivers of change in health behaviours and weight gain. Conclusion This is the first review to examine associations between acculturation and body weight among migrants utilising both acculturation scales and proxy measures of acculturation and to examine the role of health behaviours. Evidence from this review suggests that health interventions should target first generation migrants to promote retention of their original healthy behaviours. Recent migrant groups report healthier behaviours than comparative host country populations, and therefore interventions should be promoted at the initial stages following migration to avoid uptake of unhealthy behaviours.

Keywords: acculturation; body weight; health behaviour; migrant; obesity; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Body Weight
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developed Countries*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data