Report: Defectors at High Risk for Diabetes

Kang Soo Jeong, intern  |  2015-02-26 11:10

A recent study showed that North Korean defectors in South Korea are at high risk for metabolic diseases. Even those who fall within a healthy Body Mass Index range have presented symptoms of these diseases, indicating that a high percentage of them will eventually develop diabetes.

The study was conducted and announced by Professor Kim Shin Gon of the endocrine center of Korea University's Anam Hospital on February 24th. The research applied a cohort study, a form of longitudinal analysis that follows a group of people with similar traits, on North Korean defectors, referred to as NORNS [North Korean Refugees' Health in South Korea].

This research, carried out since 2008 for humanitarian and academic purposes, has revealed the causes for the hitherto unknown causes for noninfectious ailments among some North Korean defectors.

According to the study's results, 75% of North Koreans who were normal weight when they first arrived in South Korea have gained more weight since arrival, and reach the same rate of obesity as South Koreans within eight years after the formers arrival in South Korea. The rate of abdominal obesity among North Koreans is markedly lower than that of South Koreans [Males 1:6; Females 1:3], but the metabolic syndrome rate is similar; metabolic syndromes are a major risk factor for diabetes, and their significantly low insulin production is thought to increase their susceptibility to diabetes.

Those whose weight increased by more than 5% since their arrival in South Korea are ten times more likely to develop a metabolic syndrome. All defectors participating in the study also showed a lack of vitamin D, presumed to be a proclivity factor for developing metabolic issues.

The research showed that some North Koreans have developed non-obese diabetes [a case in which a patients obesity is not severe but he or she has the same risk for metabolic illnesses as obese patients). These symptoms could become worse and conspicuously increase their risk of metabolic ailments.

Professor Kim maintained that is imperative for the NORNS cohort to improve and maintain the health of North Korean defectors, which will pave the way for more effective treatment of North Koreans and overall improvement of the health care system after reunification.

*Translated by Jihae Lee

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