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The physical and mental health problems of refugee and migrant fathers: findings from an Australian population-based study of children and their families

18 Nov 2017


The aim of this study was to report on the physical and mental health of migrant and refugee fathers participating in a population-based study of Australian children and their families.


Cross-sectional survey data drawn from a population-based longitudinal study when children were aged 4–5 years.


Population-based study of Australian children and their families.


8137 fathers participated in the study when their children were aged 4–5 years. There were 131 (1.6%) fathers of likely refugee background, 872 (10.7%) fathers who migrated from English-speaking countries, 1005 (12.4%) fathers who migrated from non-English-speaking countries and 6129 (75.3%) Australian-born fathers.

Primary outcome measures

Fathers’ psychological distress was assessed using the self-report Kessler-6. Information pertaining to physical health conditions, global or overall health, alcohol and tobacco use, and body mass index status was obtained.


Compared with Australian-born fathers, fathers of likely refugee background (adjusted OR(aOR) 3.17, 95% CI 2.13 to 4.74) and fathers from non-English-speaking countries (aOR 1.79, 95%CI 1.51 to 2.13) had higher odds of psychological distress. Refugee fathers were more likely to report fair to poor overall health (aOR 1.95, 95% CI 1.06 to 3.60) and being underweight (aOR 3.49, 95% CI 1.57 to 7.74) compared with Australian-born fathers. Refugee fathers and those from non-English-speaking countries were less likely to report light (aOR 0.25, 95% CI 0.15 to 0.43, and aOR 0.30, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.37, respectively) and moderate to harmful alcohol use (aOR 0.04, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.17, and aOR 0.14, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.19, respectively) than Australian-born fathers. Finally, fathers from non-English-speaking and English-speaking countries were less likely to be overweight (aOR 0.62, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.75, and aOR 0.84, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.03, respectively) and obese (aOR 0.43, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.58, and aOR 0.77, 95% CI 0.61 to 0.98, respectively) than Australian-born fathers.


Fathers of refugee background experience poorer mental health and poorer general health than Australian-born fathers. Fathers who have migrated from non-English-speaking countries also report greater psychological distress than Australian-born fathers. This underscores the need for primary healthcare services to tailor efforts to reduce disparities in health outcomes for refugee populations that may be vulnerable due to circumstances and sequelae of forced migration and to recognise the additional psychological stresses that may accompany fatherhood following migration from non-English-speaking countries. It is important to note that refugee and migrant fathers report less alcohol use and are less likely to be overweight and obese than Australian-born fathers.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open