Health benefits of learning Dutch
Learning Dutch is sometimes a good medicine. A poor command of the language is closely associated with poor care, as revealed by the results of the first ‘ABCD’ study of Amsterdam-born children and their development. AMC and the city’s public health service (GGD) began this long-term research into the health of new-born babies in 2003. During a period of fourteen months, every pregnant woman in the Dutch capital was asked to take part in the study. More than 8200 of these women agreed, and half of them were from ethnic minorities. About 7000 of the women gave permission for their children to be monitored until adulthood. Pregnancy outcomes vary widely between the various ethnic groups. It is not entirely certain why that is, but one cause is the fact that women from ethnic minorities – and particularly those who do not speak Dutch well – tend to leave it until late in their pregnancy before they first visit a midwife.
Two slices of bread, two potatoes and half a sugar beet. That was the daily food ration for an adult in the Netherlands in the period October 1944 – June 1945. It is therefore no wonder that this period is known as the Hunger Winter. The closing months of the Second World War have often been described as an experiment of history: during this clearly defined period of famine, medical records were scrupulously maintained despite the terrible living conditions. We know, for example, the birth weights of all the babies born at the Wilhelmina Gasthuis hospital in Amsterdam (one of AMC’s predecessor institutions) before, during and after the Hunger Winter. Since 1992, clinical epidemiologists have been using this data to trace possible links between prenatal malnutrition and health problems later in life. For instance, specific studies have shown that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases. The Hunger Winter research has also started looking at epigenetics, namely changes to genetic material that may be passed on to later descendants. To do this, a third generation – the grandchildren of the Hunger Winter mothers – is being involved in the research.