Consuming a healthy diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes more significantly in Asia, Hispanic, and black women, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham Women’s Hospital and published in Diabetes Care, focuses on the relationship between diet and the development of type 2 diabetes in minority women; previous studies of this kind have focused on white populations.
The study
The researchers analysed the data of over 150,000 women: 156,030 non-Hispanic white women; 2,026 Asian women, 2,053 Hispanic women; and 2,307 black women. The women were followed for as long as 28 years, filling out a diet questionnaire every four.
Based on the questionnaire responses, the researchers developed a type 2 diabetes risk reduction score, assessing how each woman’s diet affected her risk of type 2 diabetes. Higher scores suggested “healthier” diets: that is, diets with lower consumptions of saturated fats, trans fats, sugar-sweetened beverages, red and processed meats, and generally lower glycaemic index foods. In addition, “healthier” diets included greater consumption of cereal fibre, polyunsaturated fats, coffee, and nuts.
The results
Across the ethnic groups, women with healthier diets had a similar risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Healthy diet was associated with 48 per cent risk reduction in white women, 42 in Asia, 55 in Hispanic, and 32 in black women.
But previous studies have indicated that non-white women have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place, so the results suggest that healthy diet has a greater benefit for non-white women: the analysis of the study indicates that a healthy diet can prevent 5.3 cases of type 2 diabetes per 1,000 white women per year, compared with eight cases per 1,000 non-white women per year.
The significance of the findings
Jinnie Rhee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Nephrology and lead author of the study, said: “The study suggests that a healthy diet can play a vital role in preventing type 2 diabetes particularly in minority women who have elevated risks of the disease.
“As the incidence of type 2 diabetes continues to rise at an alarming rate worldwide, these findings can have global importance for what may be the largest public health threat of this century.”
Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair, Department of Nutrition at Harvard Cha, said: “The finding confirms that we are all in the same boat when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes by diet. Our next challenge is to put this knowledge into practice so everyone can benefit.”

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