Characteristics of Body Composition and Muscle Strength of North Korean Refugees during South Korean Stay

Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2015 Dec;30(4):551-6. doi: 10.3803/EnM.2015.30.4.551. Epub 2015 Oct 20.


Background: The aim of this study was to investigate the changes of body composition and muscle strength of North Korean refugees (NKRs) according to their duration of stay in South Korea.

Methods: NKRs who volunteered and were living in South Korea, aged 20 to 75 years were recruited. Body compositions were analyzed by bioelectrical impedance analysis. Muscle strength was measured with the hand grip test. Demographic and migration information was obtained with a questionnaire.

Results: A total of 158 volunteers were recruited at a mean age of 48.3±11.4 years. The mean time from when they escaped from North Korea and arrived in South Korea was 5.8±4.3 years. Height, weight, and body surface area were significantly smaller in all NKRs compared to South Korean controls, except for women aged over 50 years. In females of younger ages (<50 years), NKRs with more than a 4-year stay in South Korea had a higher weight and fat mass than that of those who had a shorter stay (less than 4 years) in South Korea. All NKRs had a weaker grip strength than that of the age-matched controls from South Korea.

Conclusion: The NKRs showed relatively smaller physiques and weaker muscle strength than that of the South Korean controls. In younger female NKRs, shorter South Korean stay group showed small body weight and fat mass than that of longer South Korean stay group. Specific health support programs might be needed.

Keywords: Body composition; Muscle strength; North Korean refugees.