A new study from New York City finds that immigrants from the Indian subcontinent have the highest rates of diabetes in the city.
Using data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the authors found that foreign-born South Asians — including people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan — have the highest rate of diabetes of any ethnic group in New York. It is nearly double that of other foreign-born Asians.
The increased prevalence of diabetes and coronary heart disease in people of Indo-Asian origin is thought to be due to several factors. A genetic basis and increasing levels of obesity are the most common reasons for the occurrence of diabetes. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with obesity and high insulin levels and people of South Asian origin appear to be more insulin resistant than Caucasians.
The results of the study indicate that people of South Asian descent should watch their weight especially carefully, said study author Leena Gupta. “It’s important for South Asians to be screened for diabetes, regardless of their body mass index (BMI),” she added.
Gupta and colleagues looked at data for more than 54,000 participants in the annual New York City Community Health Survey between 2002 and 2008, to see how common diabetes was across different racial and ethnic groups. Among foreign-born South Asians, 13.6 per cent had diabetes — compared with 7.4 per cent of “other Asians” and 5.6 per cent of US-born non-Hispanic whites.
When the researchers started comparing people within BMI categories to each other, however, foreign-born South Asians had the highest diabetes rates in most groups. What’s important to note is that among people with a BMI in the ‘normal’ range also (18.5 to 25 kilogrammes per square metre of height), the rate of diabetes in foreign-born South Asians was nearly five times as high as the rate in whites, and two-and-a-half times as high as the rate in people from other parts of Asia.
That result is important, Gupta’s team notes, because it demonstrates that standard BMI cutoffs typically used in the US and Europe do not accurately capture the health risks of being overweight or obese for South Asians. The findings highlight the importance of understanding the health differences bet-ween different Asian sub-populations.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2011.
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