Asian migration to Australia: food and health consequences Academic Article uri icon


  • Australia's food and health patterns are inextricably and increasingly linked with Asia. Indigenous Australians arrived in the continent via Asia and have linguistic connections with people who settled in south India; there was interaction and food trade between both South-East Asia and China and northern indigenous Australians over thousands of years. After European settlement in 1788, there have been several and increasing (apart from the period of the infamous White Australian Policy following the Colonial period and Independence, with Federation, in 1901) waves of Asian migration, notably during the gold rush (Chinese), the building of the overland Telegraph (Afghans), the Colombo Plan and Asian student education in Australia from the 1950s onwards (South-Eeast Asians), and with refugees (Vietnamese and mainland Chinese), and business (late twentieth century) and progressive family reunion. Each wave has injected additional food cultural elements and caused a measure of health change for migrants and host citizens. Of principal advantage to Australia has been the progressive diversification of the food supply and associated health protection. This has increased food security and sustainability. The process of Australian eating patterns becoming Asianized is evident through market garden development (and the introduction of new foods), fresh food markets and groceries, restaurants and the development of household cooking skills (often taught by student boarders). Most of the diversification has been with grain (rice), legumes (soy), greens, root vegetables, and various 'exotic fruits'. Food acculturation with migration is generally bi-directional. Thus, for Asians in Australia, there has been a decrease in energy expenditure (and a lower plane of energy throughput), an increase in food energy density (through increased fat and sugary drink intakes), and a decrease in certain health protective foods (lentils, soy, greens) and beverages (tea). This sets the stage for 'eco-diseases'. In a population probably genetically programmed (but modifiably) in utero to abdominal obesity, diabetes (type II and gestational) and cardiovascular disease, these conditions may be rapidly acquired on migration, along with certain cancers (breast, colo-rectal and prostate). Thus, whilst Asian migration to Australia has provided health opportunities for host citizens, there have been threats to migrant citizens in regard to nutrition-related health.

publication date

  • December 2002

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