Middle age spread found to contribute to diabetes risk in ethnic groups

by Sarita Sheth on September 12, 2012

Carrying fat around the trunk in mid-life increases risk of developing diabetes

The full extent of ethnic differences in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes has been revealed by a new large scale study of 5,000 people in London over 20 years.

It found that half of all people of South Asian, African and African Caribbean descent living in the UK will develop diabetes by the of age 80 and middle age spread is a contributing factor.

Although it has been known for some time that people of South Asian, African and African Caribbean descent are at increased risk of developing diabetes in mid-life, it is not known why this is or whether this extra risk continues as people get older.

Now the Southall and Brent Revisited (SABRE) study, led by Professor Nish Chaturvedi, from the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) at Imperial College London, offers some explanations about why these differences arise.

The study reveals that by age 80, twice as many British South Asian, African and African Caribbean men and women had developed diabetes compared with Europeans of the same age.

Approximately half of all South Asians, Africans and African Caribbeans in the UK will develop the disease by age 80 compared with only one in five of European descent. While African, African Caribbeans and Europeans tend to be diagnosed at around the same age, 66 to 67 years, South Asian men were five years younger on average when diabetes was diagnosed, meaning that they are at even greater risk of complications.

In order to understand the causes of this increased diabetes risk, the researchers looked at a number of risk factors across the different ethnic groups.

The team found that carrying fat around the trunk or middle of the body in mid-life together with increased resistance to the effects of insulin explained why South Asian, African and African Caribbean women are more at risk of developing diabetes than British European women. However, this explained only part of the increased risk in South Asian, African and African Caribbean men, suggesting that other factors that are as yet unknown may also play a part.

‘This study suggests the higher rate of diabetes in some South Asian and African Caribbean women is due to increased levels of obesity, particularly the build up of fat around the waist, and higher resistance to insulin, which helps the body process sugar,’ said Dr Helene Wilson, research advisor at the British Heart Foundation.

‘This is a very encouraging discovery because it underlines the fact that controlling your weight by eating well and getting active can have a significant protective effect on your health. There’s a wealth of existing evidence that keeping the weight off by eating a healthy balanced diet and being physically active will reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, whatever your ethnic group,’ she added.

Professor Nish Chaturvedi said the study is one of the largest and longest running tri-ethnic cohorts in the UK and that the team plans to extend the research to examine the roles of genes and the environment at different stages of life in causing diabetes in the three ethnic groups.

‘Chronic diseases such as diabetes are a growing threat to global health as people are not only living longer lives but also begin to develop disease at a younger age. Long term population studies like the SABRE study are essential for helping us to understand the factors that contribute to disease and to identify the communities that are most at risk,’ explained Professor Danny Altman, head of Pathogens, Immunology and Population Health at the Wellcome Trust.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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