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Minority groups pick up worst European eating habits


Immigrant populations in Europe face an increased risk of diet-related diseases as they adjust to a ‘Western’ lifestyle, according to scientists at the University of Leeds.

A recent study shows that the dietary habits of immigrants change when they move to European countries. According to the research, immigrant populations replace the healthy components of their native diet with the worst aspects of western diets, such as processed and fast foods.

The risks are greater among younger generations of the immigrant groups, as they are more likely than their elders to eat less healthy foods found in their new country.

Dr Santosh Khokhar at the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition examined changes to the diets of African-Caribbeans, Chinese, Mexicans, Moroccans, Surinamese, South Asians and Turks living in Europe.

They found ethnic groups with low incomes had the most restricted food choice, as the foods of their traditional diet had to be imported, so becoming more expensive. In comparison, the availability of the unhealthiest western food was very high and also low cost.

Dr Khokhar, Senior Lecturer in Food Biochemistry, said that elements of the traditional diets are being ‘replaced’ with less healthy alternatives’. She continued: “The inclusion of snack foods such as French fries, chips and cakes leads to ethnic populations having higher levels of fat, salt and sugar in their diet.”

She added that groups in lower socioeconomic communities “often eat poorer quality foods, such as cheaper cuts of meat with more fat. They also tend to buy less fruits and vegetables and they consume more processed foods”.

In the study Changing dietary habits of ethnic groups in Europe and implications for health, published in Nutrition Reviews, she proposed that the decline in the nutritional quality of the diet leads to ethnic groups becoming “more susceptible to diet-related health problems similar to those affecting the mainstream population in Europe, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes”.

“The ethnic group that integrated most strongly with their host country rapidly adopted the disease patterns of the host,” she said.

The study found that diets are affected by a variety of factors including income, a lack of nutritional knowledge, availability of certain foods and the religious customs of the ethnic group. Generation and age are also major factors; younger generations have a less traditional diet compared to their elders, who tend to be “more segregated from the mainstream population and thus continue eating traditional foods.”

In related research published in the journal Food Chemistry, Dr Khokhar emphasised that to fully understand the impact of diet on health more information is needed on the composition of individual foods and of the diet as a whole. It is particularly important to produce data using agreed [‘harmonised’] procedures so that comparisons can be made between countries and between populations.

Dr Khokhar’s research was funded by the European Commission under the EU’s 6th Framework Programme’s Food Quality and Safety theme and was part of the EuroFIR consortium which is developing an international food composition information system.

For further information:
Dr Khokhar is available for interview.
Contact: Clare Ryan, University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 4031, or 07976 929 746 or email:

Notes to editors:
Both papers are available to journalists on request:

P A Gilbert and S Khokhar, Changing dietary habits of ethnic groups in Europe and implications for health, Nutrition Reviews, 2008, 66 (4).

S Khokhar et al., Harmonised procedures for producing new data on the nutritional composition of ethnic foods, Food Chemistry, 2009, 113, 816-24,

Dr Santosh Khokhar is a Senior Lecturer in Food Biochemistry in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds.

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries and a turnover of £450m. The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed it to be among the top UK research powerhouses. The University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015.

The School of Food Science and Nutrition has built up a reputation over more than forty years as one of the world’s leading institutions at which to study this subject. In the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) 2008 no other School of Food Science was ranked higher than Leeds in the UK. We continue to collaborate with major food producers and other academic institutions - a sign of both the high quality research we undertake, and the relevance of our degrees for the needs of today’s food industry.

EuroFIR (European Food Information Resource Network), the world –leading European Network of Excellence on Food Composition Databank systems, is a partnership between 47 universities, research institutes and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from 25 European countries. EuroFIR, EU funded project will provide the first comprehensive pan-European food information resource, using state-of-the-art database linking, to allow effective management, updating, extending and comparability. This is an essential underpinning component of all food and health research in Europe.

As part of the EuroFIR project, Dr Khokhar led a work package researching ethnic foods in Europe which involved partners from the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Israel in analysing the nutritional content of ethnic foods in these countries.


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