Meet the expert!

Prof. Coen Stehower (internist)

StehouwerHow do we stay healthy and fit as long as possible? A healthy diet and sufficient exercise are crucial, of course, but making the necessary changes is often easier said than done. Obesity and chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes are still on the rise in the Netherlands, including in South Limburg. To counter this trend, we embarked on a large-scale population study involving thousands of people in 2010: the Maastricht Study (DMS). As part of this study, we create a detailed picture of the health of each participant, with a view to identifying starting points for the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases as well as their causes and underlying mechanisms.

The Maastricht Study is a genuine data gold mine, which has given us countless valuable insights so far. This information is not just significant for science, but for society too. To give just one example: we have been able to demonstrate that pre-diabetes can appear at an early stage and cause damage to small blood vessels in our bodies, among other things, even if we are totally unaware of any symptoms. If we can develop a straightforward method to detect pre-diabetes in clinical practice, we can take action before patients develop type 2 diabetes as a chronic illness, and before they suffer the consequences.

This is just one of the findings that would not have been available to us without the exceptional size of this study and the willingness of its participants. The Maastricht Study (DMS) is one of a kind, and we have seen interest from around the world in our results. Of course, this will appeal to talented researchers and contribute to the development of the knowledge-based economy in our region.

"The Maastricht Study is one of a kind, and we have seen interest from around the world in our results"

Ultimately, diet and exercise are not the only things that matter: The entire social environment of individuals plays an important role. Environmental factors such as social relations or the geographic layout of a housing estate all have an impact. That is why we are taking the Maastricht Study one step further in future, in order to translate new insights this scientific gold mine offers will provide us into practical levers for prevention and intervention.