A new study has found that there may be a link between discrimination and health disparities in Canada, with racialized immigrants less likely to report being in good health compared to white immigrants and white individuals born in the country.
The study, conducted by Canadian researchers, found that four in five (82 per cent) older refugees, immigrants, and racialized Canadians report being in good physical health. However, racialized respondents who reported experiencing discrimination were less likely to fare as well, researchers say.
Study authors say the high percentage of older refugees reporting good physical health in Canada is “positive news” and underlines the “protective role that Canada’s universal health care system may have on enhancing the physical health of refugees.”
But they note that more needs to be done to help those racialized respondents.
“Many refugees experience torture and physical hardships in their country of origin, which may have long-term health consequences,” explained study author and recent University of Toronto social work graduate Alyssa MacAlpine in press release.
According to the study, white Canadian-born individuals and white immigrants were 35 per cent more likely to report being in good health compared to racialized immigrants.
“These findings indicate that racialized immigrants in Canada are at a health disadvantage,” said study co-author and Ryerson University professor Usha George in the release.
The findings were published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Aging and Human Development.
According to the study, researchers analyzed cross-sectional observational data from the 27th General Social Survey, a national Canadian survey of those aged 55 and older, conducted by Statistics Canada.
Of the 9,011 survey respondents, researchers reported that 6,777 were white individuals born in Canada, 44 were racialized individuals born in Canada, 104 were white refugees, 110 were racialized refugees, 1,277 were white immigrants, and 699 were racialized immigrants.
The data did not take into account casualties.
According to the researchers, racialized Canadians were “significantly more likely” to report that they had experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the past five years (32 per cent), compared to non-racialized Canadians (19 per cent).
“Those who said they had not experienced any form of discrimination in the past five years had 69 per cent higher odds of reporting good health compared to their peers who had experienced discrimination,” said study co-author and University of Victoria professor Karen Kobayashi in the release.
Researchers found that physical health was also linked to other social factors among respondents.
The study reports that being involved in social groups, believing that most people can be trusted, having a confidant, and being married or living in a common law relationship were associated with greater odds of reporting good health.
Other factors that increased the odds of poorer health included being less educated and having a yearly household income under $50,000, according to the study.
Senior author and University of Toronto professor Esme Fuller-Thomson says the findings show how reducing social isolation among aging populations can support better health.
“We found that racialized individuals were less likely than white individuals to be involved in social groups or associations, which suggests the need for more community-based services to support socialization opportunities,” Fuller-Thomson said in the release.
Study authors say future research should look at whether improved social support and lower discrimination not only improves the quality of life among racialized older adults, and also leads to better health.
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