01.09.2013 At first hand

Editorial Pascal Strupler. Large numbers of Italians have migrated to Switzerland in the last hundred years. Most of them have earned their living the hard way, doing physically challenging work on building sites, in hotels or big factories. Their children have gone to school here and have therefore been able to take up other occupations. They are no longer trained as bricklayers and waiters, but became bank employees, businesspeople and lawyers. Many of them have taken Swiss nationality, studied at our universities and hold political office. They have integrated into society, and it is hard to imagine it without them.

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The University of Zurich's Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine has investigated the life expectancy of these migrants and also that of their children. At first sight, the findings are startling: on average, the first generation of migrants lived longer than their Swiss contemporaries, even though they not only worked harder than the Swiss, but also tended to smoke more and take less exercise. The second finding is even more surprising: on average, the "secondos" generation – their children – die earlier than people who have spent their whole lives in Switzerland.

The solution to this apparent puzzle is "lifestyle". First-generation Italian migrants behaved just as they had done "at home". They cooked with olive oil (rather than butter), ate a lot of fish and vegetables and drank red wine in moderation. A further positive factor in addition to their diet was the important role played by their families. Anyone who fell ill received medicine from their GP and care and attention from all their relatives. In this configuration, any illness – whether mental or somatic – did not go undetected for long. These close ties have been severed in the second generation of migrants. The "secondos" take their bearings from the more individualistic lifestyle of their new homeland. This includes altering their dietary habits. Like most of us, they now eat increasing amounts of ready-made products – and suffer the well-known harmful effects on health.

What can we learn from this? Healthy living is not just a question of income, nor does it mean a life of self-denial – after all, Italy is positively synonymous with la dolce vita. Healthy enjoyment is what is needed!

Pascal Strupler
Director of the Federal Office of Public Health

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