N° 29 | December 2008

Determinants of fruit and vegetable consumption among Sub-Saharan African (SSA) migrants in Australia: Implication for public health

Adult migrant fruit and vegetable intake

Recent studies conducted in Australia1, 2 indicate that African migrants’ fruit and vegetable intakes may be below Australian target levels (i.e. 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetable per day3). Current fruit and vegetable intakes among SSA migrants in Australia have declined among adults but are adequate among children. For example, consumption of fruit among Ghanaian migrants in Sydney, Australia, was found to be 14.2 and 12.6 servings lower per week for men and women respectively in comparison to self-reported pre-migration fruit and vegetable intakes2. Ghanaian migrants replaced tropical roots and tubers with potato starch (flour). These findings mirror those reported by Burns4. Burns reported that Somali refugee women living in Melbourne had maintained fruit and vegetables as an integral part of their diet and in the process had adopted a variety of Australian fruit (i.e. plums, kiwifruit, apricots) and vegetables (i.e. broccoli), but some traditional vegetables and tropical fruits had been rejected post-migration. Reasons for rejecting traditional fruit and vegetables included high expense, lack of availability and/or different and unpleasant tastes compared to what they were used to prior to migration.

Fruit and vegetable intake of children of migrants

However, studies among SSA migrant children paint a different picture. In our recent study on the post-migration food habits of 3-12 year old African migrant children, we found that the consumption of fruit and vegetables averaged 546g and 585g respectively (when fruit juices and potatoes were excluded). This equated to 146% and 260% of Australian recommended daily intakes of fruit and vegetables respectively for children 4-11 years5. These fruit and vegetable intake levels were in excess of national recommendations and much greater than their Australian counterparts who only met 33 to 57% of fruit requirements and 32 to 40% of vegetable requirements. Together, these data suggest there are intergenerational (children versus parents) differences in the consumption of fruit and vegetables among SSA migrants

Cultural differences between Australian and SSA African parents

When in their new environment, Australian parents improve household access to fruit by having a fruit plate ready on a table for occasional snacking, whereas SSA African parents tend to spend their money on artificial decoration plastic fruits in lieu of real fruit. In this sense, decorating their home with artificial plastic fruits, together with having a fridge full of meat, is an expression of wealth and status. SSA African adults often replace traditional foods, mainly legumes, vegetables and fruit which are high in fiber and low in fat, with highly processed and energydense animal products and convenience foods. Such substitution is influenced by cultural norms because vegetables, legumes and fruit are culturally less desired and seen as survival food for poor people6. More research is needed to thoroughly understand the effect of cultural beliefs and attitudes on determining food habits in SSA migrants and health outcomes.

  1. RENZAHO a, bURNS c. post-migration food habits of sub-saharan african migrants in victoria: a cross-sectional study. nutrition & dietetics 2006;63:91-102.
  2. SALEH a, AMANATIDIS s, SAMMAN s. the effect of migration on dietary intake, type 2 diabetes and obesity: the ghanaian health and nutrition analysis in sydney, australia (ghanaisa). ecology of food and nutrition 2002;41:255-270.
  3. Department of health and ageing. GO FOR 2 FRUIT AND 5 VEG. CANBERRA: AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT.
  4. BURNS c. effect of migration on food habits of somali women living as refugees in australia. ecology of food and nutrition 2004;43:213-229.
  5. RENZAHO a. migrants getting fat in australia, acculturation and its effects on the nutrition and physical activity of african migrants to developed countries. new york: nova publishers, 2007.
  6. RENZAHO a. fat, rich and beautiful: changing socio-cultural paradigms associated with obesity risk, nutritional status and refugee children from sub-saharan africa. health & place 2004;10:105-113.
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