It Takes Less Weight to Trigger Diabetes in Minorities Than Whites

By Serena Gordon

TUESDAY, Sept. 24, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- One of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes is excess weight. But you don't to be overweight to have the disease -- and new research revealed that some racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to have diabetes at lower weights.

"Patients who belong to one of the high-prevalence racial or ethnic groups may be at risk for diabetes or prediabetes even if they are not overweight or obese," said Dr. Assiamira Ferrara, senior author of the new study. She's associate director at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

"This study suggests that along with screening patients who are overweight and obese, minorities should probably be screened even if they have a normal body mass index, particularly as they get older," Ferrara said. Body mass index (BMI) is an estimate of body fat based on height and weight. Any measure over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese.

The researchers found rates of diabetes in normal-weight people were:

  • 18% in Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders,
  • 13.5% in blacks,
  • 12.9% in Hispanics,
  • 10.1% in Asians,
  • 9.6% in American Indians/Alaskan natives,
  • 5% in whites.

Why might certain groups be more likely to develop diabetes at a lower weight?

Ferrara said the reasons aren't yet clear, but an individual's body composition and physiology likely play a role.

"For instance, it has been shown from previous studies that Asians have a higher percentage of visceral fat [fat that accumulates around abdominal organs] than whites at a given body mass index," and visceral fat can affect how the body metabolizes blood sugar, she explained.

The observational study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, just an association. But the findings suggest the importance of looking beyond obesity to other causes of type 2 diabetes, Ferrara noted.

The study included 4.9 million people. The group was diverse. Fifty percent were white; 21.6% Hispanic; 12.7% Asian; 9.5% black; 1.4% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and 0.5% American Indian/Alaskan native. Just over 4% were multiracial or unknown.

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