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Italian immigrants to Switzerland live longer than the Swiss

Written by | 3 May 2013 | All Medical News

World Health Matters (Switzerland) by Gary Finnegan – Italian people who move to live in Switzerland outlive the Swiss-born majority, according to a new study.

Although immigrants from Italy and their offspring form one of the largest demographic groups in Switzerland, there are hardly any studies on their state of health and risk of mortality. In a first for Switzerland, Dr Silvan Tarnutzer and Dr Matthias Bopp from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine calculated unbiased mortality risks for people with an Italian migrant background.

Compared to Swiss people born in Switzerland, immigrant Italians exhibit a mortality risk that is roughly 10% lower. Younger male Italians fare particularly well, although the differences between Italian-born and Swiss-born people in Switzerland become smaller with age.

At first glance, this finding is astonishing as Italian immigrants often only have a basic school education and below-average income – both factors associated with higher risks of mortality. The greater prevalence of smoking and overweight people and poorer assessment of one’s own health in Italy compared to Switzerland also point in the same direction, say the scientists.

On a behavioural level, this is merely counteracted by the Mediterranean diet – the frequent consumption of fish, fruit, vegetables and olive oil – and the distinctive social network.

Dr Silvan Tarnutzer said that the lower risks of mortality can primarily be put down to the so-called “healthy migrant effect”, according to which particularly healthy and bold people often migrate while weaker and ill people do not even start looking for a job abroad in the first place or, in the event of illness, return to their country of origin.

As far as the offspring of migrants born in Switzerland are concerned, however, this head-start disappears. The lifestyle of the host country influences Italians from subsequent generations during their personal development and they detach themselves from the healthy southern lifestyle and close-knit family network.

For instance, Italians born in Switzerland display a 16% greater risk of mortality than locals. “This is presumably as a result of the double burden of poorer educational opportunities and a more unfavourable lifestyle,” says Dr Bopp.

Interestingly, women seem to be affected by this unfavourable risk constellation to a lesser degree. “Due to their large number and on average younger age, the male offspring of Italian immigrants constitutes a special target group for prevention and the promotion of health,” concludes Dr Tarnutzer.

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