Diabetes Risk High for Ethnic Minorities
September 11, 2012

New Study Further Highlights Elevated Risk of Type 2 Diabetes for Ethnic Minorities

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new study by the Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation has found that half of all people of African, African Caribbean and South Asian ethnic backgrounds will have diabetes by the time they reach 80 years of age.

Researchers utilized the Southhall and Brent REvisited (SABRE) study to examine the extent of the role played by ethnic background in the development of type 2 diabetes for several minority ethnic groups. They stated that the findings helped explain some of the causes behind the elevated risk for individuals of these backgrounds. The study found that by age 80, twice as many British African, African Caribbean and South Asian females and males had developed Type 2 diabetes as British citizens of European descent. These results were recently featured in the journal Diabetes Care.

"Not only does this study increase our understanding of the reasons for ethnic differences in risks of diabetes, it highlights the astonishingly high risk of diabetes in middle-aged people in our ethnic minorities and the importance of early diagnosis and careful management. Future analyses will examine methods of predicting which individuals are most risk of diabetes— the good news is that diabetes can be prevented if the warning signs are recognized early enough," noted Dr. Therese Tillin, a research fellow at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, in a prepared statement.

Past research has found that individuals of African, African Caribbean, and South Asian ethnic backgrounds have an elevated chance of acquiring diabetes in mid-life. However, researchers do not fully understand why there is an increased risk for aging members of these ethnic groups.

The team of investigators examined almost 5,000 middle-aged participants in London who were of African, African Caribbean, European, and South Asian background. The subjects of the study did not have type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the project. Researchers tracked the study participants over a 20-year period and analyzed factors such as family history, obesity, weight gain and increase in insulin resistance.

"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,” commented Danny Altman, the head of Pathogens, Immunology and Population Health at the Wellcome Trust, in the statement.

The scientists also noted that insulin resistance along with increases in the amount of fat surrounding the middle of the body during mid-life led to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for African, African Caribbean and South Asian women compared to European women.

"This study suggests the higher rate of diabetes — a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes — 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,” remarked Dr. Hélène Wilson, a research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, in a statement.

Furthermore, South Asian men were found to be more susceptible to type 2 diabetes and were diagnosed on average five years earlier than men of African, African Caribbean, and European descent.

"We set up the SABRE study in 1988 and it is one of the largest and longest running tri-ethnic cohorts in the UK. We are enormously grateful to all the participants for their continuing support of the study, which has enabled us to begin to understand why diabetes happens in some people and not in others. We plan to extend our research to examine the roles of genes and the environment at different stages of life in causing diabetes in the three ethnic groups," explained Dr. Nish Chaturvedi, a professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, in a statement.