Ethnicity plays a role in depression, diabetes, heart problems: Amsterdam researchers

Ethnicity plays a role in the differences between Amsterdam residents’ health. Ethnically diverse residents are more likely to have depression, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or unhealthy weight. While people with a Dutch-only background are more likely to be heavy drinkers, according to a large-scale study by Amsterdam UMC and the GGD over the past decade, Parool reports.

For example, 1 in 5 Dutch-Turks in Amsterdam have symptoms of depression, compared to 1 in 20 Amsterdam residents with a Dutch-only background. Cardiovascular diseases are more common in people of Ghanaian and Hindu descent. About a third of Dutch-Turks and Dutch-Ghanians are extremely overweight, compared to a tenth of people with Dutch-only roots.

These are a few of the findings from over 150 studies conducted in the Healthy Life in an Urban Setting (Helius) project over the past ten years. Helius is a research collective of Amsterdam UMC and the municipal health service GGD Amsterdam. On Tuesday, the researchers will hold a symposium in the Tolhuistuin about the results of the Helius projects, including possible changes in the medical guidelines for diabetes and more insight into the development of depression.

“Depression, for example, is not only more common in Amsterdammers who were born in Turkey, but also in their children who were born in the Netherlands,” Amsterdam UMC researcher Anja Lok said to Parool. “This is partly due to their relatively low socio-economic position and the greater experience of discrimination.”

Individual characteristics play a role in whether someone gets depression, but so do the country where you live and social context. For example, someone with an increased predisposition to gloominess and listlessness might not develop depression thanks to valuable social contacts and an inclusive society, while someone without those predispositions may become depressed due to loneliness and exclusion.

“In the past, psychiatry thought there was a single, direct cause of depression. But that process is much more complex,” said Lok. A person’s microbiome – the wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts in your gut – also has an influence on depression. “That connection is independent of ethnic or migration backgrounds; we saw it in all populations.”

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