Community Health Profile – Italians Co. As. It (Italian Assistance Association) This profile provides an overview of some of the cultural and health issues of concern to Italian migrants who live in Australia

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Community Health Profile – Italians
Co.As.It (Italian Assistance Association)
This profile provides an overview of some of the cultural and health issues of concern to Italian migrants who live in Australia. It can be used as a pointer to some of the issues pertinent to the Italian community. Please note that the profile does not apply to all Italians as individual experiences may vary.

Italians are the largest group f overseas born in Australia, except for migrans from UK and Ireland. Most Italians arrived in Australia through “chain” migration, in which people from a particular village, town or district in Italy followed one another to
During the Second World War, many Italians in Australia were interned or were placed under severe restrictions. In the 1950’s additional Italians arrived under an immigration agreement between the two governments. Australia provided fare assistance for workers willing to work in selected jobs. Subsequently, the Italians settled more in metropolitan and industrial centres, finding employment in the building, construction and other industries. Others, were assisted in finding accommodation and jobs by Italians who had previously migrated to Australia.
Currently, in Australia there are approximately 218,000 Italian-born people.

The official language in Italy is Italian, but often, in Australia, a dialect from the many regions is spoken, especially by older Italians.
Not all Italians have had the opportunity to learn English. Many Italians migrated before English proficiency was a criterion to gain entry into the country, and English classes for migrants were either not provided or not easily accessible. Some studies suggest that in excess of 50% of Italian older people have little or no knowledge of the English language. In addition, older Italians may be frustrated and isolated by the younger generation’s inability to speak Italian.
When addressing Italian older people, tt is conventional to use titles. Second and third generation Italians may no follow this convention.

The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism.

Family and Society
Strong, traditor ties bind the Italian family together. Family association is of great importance. However, a faster pace of life is affecting the extended family. With more family members working, fewer families can care for their older members.

Communication styles
Italians tend to be highly expressive of joy, sadness and grief, both vocally and by overt body gesture.

Health Beliefs and Practices
Community attitudes and knowledge about health issues are not greatly different from the mainstream.

Many Italians are unfamiliar, and sometimes may be uncomfortable with interpreters, and may insist on family or friends to act as interpreters. This can cause problems with both the quality of the translation and censoring.
Family members who act as interpreters may not pass on all the information to the older person. In addition, older Italians are unlikely to be able to process information presented in written Italian, as they may have had little education or have bad eyesight for reading.
Lifestyle risk factors are often present in Italians as a result of low exercise patterns. Common problems include being overweight (women more than men) and smoking (men). Alcohol is used les by Italians than the general population.

Health Status
The Italian community is an aging population. Some issues of concern are:

  • Low exercise patterns

  • Low blood pressure patterns

  • Smoking and obesity tend to be higher (particularly in males) but Italian migrants have lower levels of heart and respiratory disease

  • Thalassaemia rates are higher in Italians than the general population

  • Mortality rates for diabetes are higher in Italian women than the general population

  • Higher rates of cancer of the stomach and nasopharynx

Isolation can be a significant influence on health and health outcomes, particularly for older Italians.

Health Care Utilisation
Older people my have had little interaction with the health system and may be bewildered by Australian health system. This should be handled with great sensitivity.
Being in hospital may be traumatic because of the separation from family and friends.

Mental Health
Italians with mental illness may be stigmatised. There may be shame associated with having an intellectually handicapped adult child and may result in parents not fully utilising available services.
Domestic violence may be hidden for a long period in order to maintain the family honour.

Health Care of the Italian Aged
The care for the Italian aged usually alls on the women of the family. There may be gossip about a family if older people re moved out of the family home, and a daughter may be criticised if a parent is moved to a residential aged care facility.

Women’s Health
Awareness of women’s health issues among Italian migrant women tends to be poor, with low rates of women having a Pap test, breast examination or a mammogram, or even having heard of these screening measures. They may only seek services for serious illness, not for screening. Younger women have an increased knowledge of health issues.

This profile was compiled by utilising the following sources:
Cultural Diversity in Health Website of the Postgraduate Medical Council of NSW.
Queensland Government. Multicultural Health – Community Health Profiles (Italians).
The cultural dictionary of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (2003). Project of the Migrant Resource Centre (Canberra and region Inc). A resource to increase cultural understanding for service-providers in the ACT.

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