Nutritional deficiencies are common in clients of a refugee background and are usually attributed to chronic lack of essential nutrients. Some contributing factors may be: interrupted or inadequate access to food, dental problems or parasitic infections. A common symptom and side effect of trauma can be poor appetite, including feelings of nausea at the sight or smell of food, being repulsed by food and being unable to eat anything. Feelings of guilt for loved ones back home may also contribute to irregular eating.
Additionally, food security for people of refugee background in Australia can often be poor. Contributing factors include: low income, not being able to find traditional or familiar ingredients, low literacy resulting in difficulty reading nutritional information. Shift work may also contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Unaccompanied minors and some other groups may not have learnt cooking or shopping skills, and some new arrivals may be unaware that tap water is safe to drink.
Common nutritional problems and vitamin deficiencies in clients of refugee background include:
- Concern about weight gain/loss after arrival in Australia
- Ongoing lifestyle and diet concerns (e.g. loss of traditional foods, exposure to high sugar intake)
- Vitamin D deficiency and/or calcium deficiency
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Anaemia (different causes may coexist such as iron deficiency, malaria and parasitic infection)
Victorian Refugee Health Network nutrition webpages:
- Performing a nutritional assessment
- Health promotion – lifestyle and nutrition tips
- Nutrition resource library
- Promoting Refugee Health Guide – Adult health (pages 104-127) and Child/adolescent health (pages 192-201)
- High dose Vitamin D information and prescribers
- Low vitamin D in Victoria: Key health messages for doctors, nurses and allied health
- Good food for new arrivals: nutrition resources for communities and health providers