Refugees settling in poor neighborhoods are substantially more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to a new Swedish study.

Researchers from University of California San Francisco, Lund University in Sweden, and Stanford University found that refugees who were resettled in the most deprived neighborhoods were 15 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those in the least deprived ones.

They investigated data on over 60,000 refugees who came to Sweden from 1987 to 1991, looking at how many of them developed the condition about two decades after they settled into their new communities.

“Our study is highly relevant to Europe’s current refugee crisis,” said lead study author and health policy professor Justin White. “Investing in [refugees’] well-being today could lessen the burden on health and social support systems."

The greater risk of having the blood sugar disease could come from scarce job opportunities – which leave people with little money to spend on nutritious food – as well as the stress of living in scarcity and not being able to feel safe outdoors, White explained.

The research subjects, for instance, were sent to live in Swedish neighborhoods during a boom in real estate, when they had little choice of where to reside. A majority ended up in deprived neighborhoods, with 45 percent in moderate and 47 percent in high-deprivation locations.

An overall estimated 4,500 or 7.4 percent of the research population developed diabetes – 7.9 percent in the high-deprivation areas got the illness, compared to only 5.8 in the least deprived ones.

The team studied how differences in settlement communities influenced the risk of having diabetes through data on unemployment, poverty, education, and welfare enrollment. They then looked at how many were diagnosed with diabetes from 2002 to 2010, mapping the cases to the deprivation levels of the communities they live in.

In an accompanying editorial, University of the West Indies professor Nigel Unwin said that the greater predisposition among refugees could be due to different effects, such as less access to healthy food, lack of physical activity, and great psychological stress. He added that perhaps, it could be linked to poorer education and a more widespread prevalence of unhealthy habits.

The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development  | Flickr

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