Passivity can increase the risk of diabetes

The process of changing country can also lead to physical ill-health. For example, there appears to be an increase in the risk of diabetes, at least for women.

Per Wändell. Photo: Ulf Sirborn

Diabetes is a disease that takes quite a long time to develop, which means that there is no research on the refugees now in question. But Per Wändell, Senior Professor of General Medicine at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, has studied Turkish immigrants from the rural area of central Anatolia who have come to Sweden and compared them with peers who stayed behind. The women who came to Sweden had a significantly higher incidence of diabetes, while significantly more of the men who immigrated had an impaired glucose tolerance – a precursor of diabetes – as well as higher blood pressure and BMI, compared with those who stayed behind.

“If you come to Sweden from the rural central Anatolia, it is like moving to another century. It becomes a form of urbanisation. People seem to gain weight, get higher blood pressure and more diabetes. It is not easy to work out why, but reasonable explanations are that they move about less and that we have more and cheaper high-fat and high-sugar food,” says Per Wändell.

Physical activity

He also mentions research that has pointed to the importance of physical activity for immigrants. For the refugees coming now, there is a great risk that the the wait for asylum examination leads to a passivisation that might increase the risk of diabetes.

“It is therefore important already when the refugees arrive to start measures to activate people in various ways. We might need to think along new lines in order to reach those groups that are not as accustomed to exercising,” says Per Wändell.

Text: Fredrik Hedlund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 1, 2017.