The longer foreign workers stay in Korea, the more they contract "adult diseases" such as hypertension, a study suggested Monday.
Severe stress in adapting to Korean life may have driven them to fragile health, professor Hong Seung-kwon of the Catholic University Incheon St. Mary's Hospital said in his research paper on 2,459 foreigners who received free medical checkups between 2004 and 2008.
The foreigners whom Hong studied came to Korea to work under the employment permit system or to marry Korean nationals. They are generally regarded as economically underprivileged, he said.
According to the study, the prevalence rate of hypertension, one of the most common chronic conditions here, was 30.8 per cent, higher than 26.9 per cent for average Korean adults.
A notable point is that the rate rose with their sojourn period in the country. Men who have lived here for 4-6 years were 1.9 times more likely to have hypertension than those here less than a year.
The same phenomenon was seen in other diseases such as hyperlipidemia and obesity. About 34.2 per cent were diagnosed obese, which is higher than the obesity rate of low-income Koreans, 33 per cent.
Hong said his study may show a relationship between the period of stay in Korea and disease prevalence, but does not necessarily show causation.
But past studies highlight the imbalanced diets of foreign workers here and the fact that job security plays a major role in "adult disease" prevalence. Hong cited a drastic change in daily life, which is often accompanied by enormous stress as the major culprit behind poor health.
"The main direct cause of their disease prevalence may be a change in diet. While most of those studied came from Asian countries, they seem to have enjoyed Westernized dishes such as fast food here. Drinking and smoking could also have affected their health," he said.
"Also many of them are under heavy stress from a lack of job security, low income and the new environment they are required to get used to. We need a set of policies to look after their health," he added.