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Proportion of life spent in Canada and the incidence of multiple sclerosis in permanent immigrants


Background and Objectives — While immigrants to high-income countries have a lower risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) compared with host populations, it is unknown whether this lower risk among immigrants increases over time. Our objective was to evaluate the association between proportion of life spent in Canada and the hazard of incident MS in Canadian immigrants.

Methods — We conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study in Ontario, using linked health administrative databases. We followed immigrants, who arrived in Ontario between 1985 and 2003, from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2016, to record incident MS using a validated algorithm based on hospital admission or outpatient visits. We derived proportion of life spent in Canada based on age at arrival and time since immigration obtained from linked immigration records. We used multivariable proportional hazard models, adjusting for demographics and comorbidities, to evaluate the association between proportion of life in Canada and the incidence of MS, where proportion of life was modelled using restricted cubic spline terms. We further evaluated the role of age at migration (15 or younger vs older than 15 years), sex, and immigration class in sensitivity analyses.

Results — We included 1.5 million immigrants (49.9% female, mean age 35.9 [SD 14.2] years) who had spent a median of 20% (Q1-Q3 10%-30%) of their life in Canada. During a mean follow-up of 13.9 years (SD 1.0), 934 (0.44/100,000 person-years) were diagnosed with MS. Compared with the median, a higher risk of MS was observed at higher values of proportion of life spent (e.g., hazard ratio [70% vs 20% proportion of life] 1.38; 1.07-1.78). This association did not vary by sex (p(sex × proportion of life) = 0.70) or immigration class (p(immigration class × proportion of life) = 0.13). The results did not vary by age at migration but were statistically significant only at higher values of proportion of life for immigrants aged 15 years or younger at arrival.

Discussion — The risk of incident MS in immigrants varied with the proportion of life spent in Canada, suggesting an acculturation effect on MS risk. Further work is required to understand environmental and sociocultural factors driving the observed association.



Vyas MV, Kapral MK, Rea A, Fang J, Rotstein DL. Neurology. 2024; 102(10):e209350. Epub 2024 Apr 24.

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