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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
  1. Rebecca Giallo1,2,
  2. Elisha Riggs1,3,
  3. Claire Lynch1,
  4. Dannielle Vanpraag1,
  5. Jane Yelland1,3,
  6. Josef Szwarc4,
  7. Philippa Duell-Piening4,
  8. Lauren Tyrell4,
  9. Sue Casey4,
  10. Stephanie Janne Brown1,2,3
  1. 1 Healthy Mothers Healthy Families Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Department of Paediatrics, Royal Children’s Hospital, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4 The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Brunswick, Australia
  1. Correspondence to A/Prof Rebecca Giallo; rebecca.giallo{at}


Objectives 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.

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

Setting Population-based study of Australian children and their families.

Participants 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.

Results 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.

Conclusion 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.

  • refugees
  • migration
  • fathers
  • men
  • mental health
  • depression

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  • Contributors RG, ER, CL, DV, JY, JS, PD, LT, SC and SJB conceptualised the research questions and contributed to the interpretation of findings and identification of the implications. CL and DV identified fathers of likely refugee background in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children data set using the method described. As a registered user of the longitudinal study of Australian children, RG accessed data and conducted all analyses and prepared tables. RG drafted the manuscript. All authors, in particular ER, JY, JS and SJB, critically revised the manuscript.

  • Funding This paper used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) which was funded by Australian Government Department of Social Services. LSAC was conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings reported in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DSS, AIFS or the ABS. The work of the authors was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), VicHealth and the Victorian government’s operational Infrastructure support programme. RG and JY are supported by NHMRC career development fellowships; and SB, by an NHMRC research fellowship.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Australian Institute of Family Studies.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The Longitudinal Study of Australian children is funded by Australian Government Department of Social Services. Data are available to registered data users. Information about data access is provided at

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