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Asian-Americans and Diabetes

Quinn Phillips

January 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, we interviewed soul singer Angie Stone, who serves as a celebrity spokesperson for Eli Lilly and Company’s FACE (Fearless African Americans Connected and Empowered) Diabetes campaign. Along with Hispanics, African-Americans are a frequent target of diabetes awareness campaigns. After all — according to the American Diabetes Association — African-Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

But as a recent study suggests, another US minority group may need outreach efforts as well. Asian-Americans, according to the results of a survey published in the journal Diabetes Care, are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have Type 2 diabetes even though they are thinner. From 1997 to 2008, the diabetes rate among Asian-Americans rose from 4.3% to 8.3%, compared with 3.8% to 6.0% for whites. This is the case even though only 17% of Asian-Americans are obese, compared with 25% of whites.

According to a Reuters article on the study, genes are a likely factor in the higher risk for Asian-Americans, but lifestyle may also be a key factor. For example, the survey did not ask what participants usually ate. A study published earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a higher intake of white rice was associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes (while brown rice reduced this risk). Higher intake of white rice, or any number of unknown lifestyle factors, may therefore account for part of the difference between Asian-Americans and whites. But given the available evidence correlating body-mass index and diabetes risk, some researchers are already calling for a lower official threshold for obesity for people of Asian descent.

If you are Asian-American, do you feel that there is sufficient awareness of diabetes risks in your community? Should awareness campaigns stress the fact that not everyone at risk for Type 2 diabetes is overweight or obese? Would it be feasible, or desirable, to encourage a switch to brown rice from white — for everyone? Leave a comment below!

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