Changes in dietary habits after migration and consequences for health: a focus on South Asians in Europe

  • Gerd Holmboe-Ottesen Department of Community Health Institute of Health and Society University of Oslo
  • Margareta Wandel
Keywords: migrant health, diet change, diabetes, metabolic syndrome


Background: Immigrants from low-income countries comprise an increasing proportion of the population in Europe. Higher prevalence of obesity and nutrition related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is found in some immigrant groups, especially in South Asians.

Aim: To review dietary changes after migration and discuss the implication for health and prevention among immigrants from low-income countries to Europe, with a special focus on South Asians.

Method: Systematic searches in PubMed were performed to identify relevant high quality review articles and primary research papers. The searches were limited to major immigrant groups in Europe, including those from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka). Articles in English from 1990 and onwards from Europe were included. For health implications, recent review articles and studies of particular relevance to dietary changes among South Asian migrants in Europe were chosen.

Results: Most studies report on dietary changes and health consequences in South Asians. The picture of dietary change is complex, depending on a variety of factors related to country of origin, urban/rural residence, socio-economic and cultural factors and situation in host country. However, the main dietary trend after migration is a substantial increase in energy and fat intake, a reduction in carbohydrates and a switch from whole grains and pulses to more refined sources of carbohydrates, resulting in a low intake of fiber. The data also indicate an increase in intake of meat and dairy foods. Some groups have also reduced their vegetable intake. The findings suggest that these dietary changes may all have contributed to higher risk of obesity, T2D and CVD.

Implications for prevention: A first priority in prevention should be adoption of a low-energy density high fiber diet, rich in whole grains and grain products, as well as fruits, vegetables and pulses. Furthermore, avoidance of energy dense and hyperprocessed foods is an important preventive measure.

Keywords: dietary change; food habits; diabetes; cardiovascular disease; immigrants; South Asia; acculturation

(Published: 6 November 2012)

Citation: Food & Nutrition Research 2012. 56: 18891 -


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How to Cite
Holmboe-Ottesen G., & Wandel M. (2012). Changes in dietary habits after migration and consequences for health: a focus on South Asians in Europe. Food & Nutrition Research.
Migration, nutrition and health

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