Stop thinking your diabetes risk begins above a certain BMI

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BMI thresholds for developing diabetes vary between races, new research finds.
Credit: Getty Images

When it comes to diabetes research, a new study says black and Asian adults may be at risk for developing diabetes at a lower weight than whites.

The findings could lead to changing the definition of obesity for different populations so diabetes intervention efforts can begin sooner, when they’re most helpful.

The guidelines for determining obesity are based on body mass index. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines overweight as a BMI of 25 to 29.9 and obesity as a BMI of 30 and above.

However, those cutoffs are primarily applicable to white people, which has been noted by the World Health Organization, according to Dr. Naveed Sattar of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

His study analyzed data on about 500,000 middle-aged U.K. adults, 96 percent of whom were white. The remaining 4 percent included South Asian, black and Chinese adults. Compared to whites, nonwhite adults were at least twice as likely to have diabetes.

Diabetes rates for white people with a BMI of 30, the lower threshold for obesity, were equal to diabetes rates for South Asians with a BMI of 22, black people with a BMI of 24, Chinese women with a BMI of 24 and Chinese men with a BMI of 26.

Results were similar when the researchers looked at waist circumference: Nonwhite people were at risk for diabetes at smaller waist sizes than white people. The new study and others suggest that the obesity cutoff for Asians in particular might need to be reevaluated, Sattar said.



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