7.1 Factors affecting Migrant Health

Among the factors that affect migrant health one has to include dietary factors, living conditions, social mores, including particularly smoking and drinking. Important also is the degree of convergence towards an Australian living conditions which in many ways differ from the style of life in the land of origin.

Dietary Factors

The average Maltese diet is based on the Italian cuisine with an emphasis on pasta, bread and carbohydrate-based foods. The content of meat and high-protein food is correspondingly reduced. They also like fruit and fresh vegetables. It is likely therefore that the composition of the diet is quite acceptable. However, obesity is a major problem among the Maltese in Australia as in Malta, this being the result of over indulgence in carbohydrate rich foods. The habit of using oil and fats for frying adds considerably to the calorie content of the diet.


The outcome of these dietary habits is obesity. In common with other S. Europeans Maltese, both male and females are likely to be overweight (Castles, 1989). It is well established that obesity is likely to be associated with cardiovascular disorders and to precipitate frank expression of diabetes, both of which conditions are common among the Maltese.

Alcohol Consumption

Most Maltese like a glass of wine with their meals, however, alcohol excess is not a major problem. Very few indulge in regular binges in pubs, and most prefer to have a drink with friends at home. The incidence of alcohol-related liver disease is not a major problem in Maltese migrants.


Although no statistical data is readily available, it is readily seen at any meeting of Maltese that the number of smokers is quite high. The data given by Young (1986) confirm that this is a tendency shared by the Southern Europeans in general. As a rule, smoking habits are the prerogative of males, and very few Maltese-born females smoke.

Working Conditions

As seen in an earlier section, the vast majority of Maltese work in manufacturing and blue collar occupations. Although only about 25% of the female population are involved in full time paid work, their occupations are disproportionately likely to involve manual work.

Exercise and Recreation

The concept of exercise for its own sake is largely foreign to the Maltese mentality, and very few middle aged persons would be indulging in regular exercise. Most however have a patch of garden to work over the weekend, and many have other interests such as boating, fishing and hunting, in which they indulge be it at irregular intervals. It has to be borne in mind of course that most Maltese males are involved in manual occupations and trades which involve more energy expenditure than the more sedentary occupations. The majority of Maltese women spend their time house-keeping and do no regular physical exercise of amore strenuous nature. Very few male or female Maltese have the habit of going for long walks, playing games like tennis or even golf, or indulging in set regular exercise of any kind. This pattern of like is not unlike the one that the average middle-aged person leads in Malta, and of course excludes the second-generation and younger persons who are more likely to be physically active.

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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