The association of demographic variables and dietary habits on body mass index of foreign-born population in South Korea
The Republic of Korea (Korea) has been composed of a single ethnic group and, until very recently, has had little or no experience with large-volume of immigrants. The country, once known for its large-scale emigration, has emerged as a popular destination. As the foreign-born populations continue to grow, they experience dietary pattern changes. Dietary changes of immigrants are often associated with weight increase and consequently the risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. This study examined the association of demographic variables and dietary habits on Body Mass Index (BMI) of foreign nationals living in Korea, based on a cross-sectional sample of 193 foreign-born men (120) and women (73). A web-based survey program, Zoho survey, was used to capture self-reported region of origin, socio-demographic variables, weight, height, frequency of physical activity, and food frequencies. For the entire sample (n=193), the World Health Organization (WHO) classification and the Korean Society for the Study of Obesity cut-off points of BMI were used. The average BMI was 24.6 (SD=3.6) kg/m2. Significant associations were observed between BMI and age (χ² (8, N=193) =26.22, p<.01), gender (χ² (2, N=193) =11.45, p<.01), and religious affiliation (χ² (4, N=191) =9.53, p<.05). On average, participants had meat and carbonated drinks 2.2 times a week; high calorie foods 1.5 times a week; and, dairy products 2.4 times a week. A significant correlation (r=.14, p<.05) between BMI and eating meat was also observed. This study showed that the BMI varied with age, gender and religion. Frequent consumption of meat was associated with a significant increase in BMI. This increase in BMI could be associated with the dietary changes experienced by the newcomers or absence of more familiar products. Consequently, as the volume of immigrants continues to increase in Korea, it is imperative to consider designing and implementing public health policies specifically in relation to a healthy diet that can impact the prevalence of preventable chronic diseases. Thus, health education among foreign-born population in Korea should focus on reducing the intake of meat and high energy foods.
Keywords: Acculturation, BMI, Demographic, Dietary habits, Korea, Immigrants, Physical Activity
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