Black and Asian adults are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a lower weight than white people of a similar age, according to new research which suggests the risk of developing type 2 diabetes based on body weight varies for different ethnic groups.
The study comes from researchers at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, who examined data on nearly half a million middle-aged adults in the UK.
Of those, the vast majority (96%) were white, while the remaining 4% consisted of South Asia, black and Chinese adults. 5% of the total study group were diagnosed with diabetes.
After assessing the association between anthropometric measures (BMI, body fat percentage, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio) and prevalent diabetes, the team found that non-white adults were two to four times more likely to have diabetes.
More interestingly, diabetes prevalence in white people with a high BMI of 30 (the lower threshold for obesity) was equal to incidence among South Asians with a BMI of 22, black people with a BMI of 24, and Chinese people with a BMI of 25.
Similar results were also noted when examining waist circumference, with black and Asians ‘at risk’ for diabetes at smaller waist sizes than white people.
While obesity is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes risk, the findings suggest the definition of obesity should be different for different ethnic groups.
The researchers concluded that obesity should be defined at lower thresholds among people of African, Caribbean and Asian descent (non-white populations) to ensure early diabetes interventions and prevent ill health. Furthermore, within the Asian population, the obesity threshold should be a significantly lower for South Asians than Chinese adults.
Dr. Naveed Sattar, of the Univerity of Glasgow, said: “Establishing ethnicity-specific cutoffs for obesity is important partly to make doctors aware that diabetes risk can be heightened at much lower BMIs for some ethnicities, which should prompt them to give lifestyle advice and screen for diabetes at lower weights.”
The research was published online in the Diabetes Care journal.

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