Australians from English-speaking backgrounds generally have a higher prevalence of long-term health conditions than other Australians, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
However, the data show that some groups of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians experience a higher prevalence of specific long-term health conditions and a lower prevalence of other conditions than the Australian-born population*.
Chronic health conditions among culturally and linguistically diverse Australians, 2021, provides interactive data visualisations on the prevalence of ten chronic conditions by country of birth, time since arrival, main language used at home and English proficiency, as reported by Australians for the first time in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 Census of Population and Housing.
‘Australia is a multicultural nation, with Australia’s population including people born in nearly every country of the world. Some CALD populations face inter-connected health and social disadvantages, as well as greater challenges when dealing with the healthcare system and services,’ said AIHW spokesperson Claire Sparke.
‘With such diversity, today’s report is fundamental to building a more complete picture of the health status of more than 7 million CALD people living in Australia. It will help build a clearer understanding of the health differences between CALD populations, enabling better design and delivery of services to ensure they can access the health and community services they require.’
‘On average, migrants to Australia have a lower prevalence of long-term health conditions, which is sometimes referred to as the “healthy migrant effect.” But this is not the case for all migrants.’
Country of birth
People born in Australia and migrants from other English-speaking countries and Europe generally had a higher prevalence of chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, lung conditions and mental health conditions.
Australians born in some overseas countries had a higher prevalence of dementia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease than the Australian-born population, particularly for people born in regions such as Polynesia, South Asia and the Middle East.
‘Bangladesh-born Australians had the highest prevalence of both diabetes and heart disease – 12% and 4.6% respectively,’ Ms. Sparke said.
‘Kidney disease was highest in people born in Polynesian countries such as Tonga (1.9%) and Samoa (1.5%).’
For main languages used at home, the findings were consistent with those for country of birth.
‘People who spoke Tongan or Māori (Cook Island) had the highest prevalence of diabetes and kidney disease (12% and 2.1%), respectively,’ Ms. Sparke said.
Time since arrival in Australia and proficiency in spoken English
The report also presents data for these conditions by combinations of country of birth and time since arrival, language used at home and English proficiency and time since arrival and English proficiency.
‘Indicators like the length of time migrants have been in Australia can give a picture of how familiar they are with Australian society and health practices. It is also useful to explore how the social characteristics of migrants change with length of time spent in Australia. Using this indicator in combination with others can better inform on socio-cultural differences between the CALD populations,’ Ms. Sparke said.
The year of arrival in Australia and level of English proficiency were interacting factors linked to the prevalence of many long-term health conditions such as arthritis, asthma, mental health and lung conditions.
‘For early arrivals (people who first arrived to Australia more than 10 years before the 2021 Census), the prevalence of one or more long-term health conditions was higher for people with low English proficiency (33%) than for people with high proficiency (23%),’ Ms. Sparke said.
‘These data are crucial for identifying those who may experience barriers in accessing services due to their lack of ability in spoken English.”For people who arrived more recently (within 10 years before the 2021 Census), there was little difference in the prevalence of many long-term health conditions for people with low or high English proficiency, except for asthma which was more common among people with high English proficiency. A higher prevalence of asthma among people with high English proficiency was observed across many languages.’
The prevalence of chronic health conditions generally increased with the number of years since arriving in Australia for most countries of birth, even after controlling for age. However, recent arrivals from Iraq had a higher prevalence for multiple conditions, including dementia, heart disease and kidney disease.
A lower English proficiency among people who spoke Arabic (the most common language spoken in Iraq) was also linked to a higher prevalence of long-term health conditions.
‘The findings presented in today’s report reflect the diverse cultures, languages, migration trajectories, social and economic circumstances among CALD people in Australia. Further work will be undertaken to help fill knowledge gaps that can be used to target barriers faced by CALD populations in accessing health care,’ Ms. Sparke said.
Users can explore more detailed data in an interactive data visualisation tool.
The study builds on a previous scoping paper, Reporting on the health of culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Australia.
*Data presented in this media release and the body of the report are age-standarised. Crude rates are presented in the data visualisations and the supplementary data tables.