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Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Feb;35(2):167-87. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.135. Epub 2010 Jul 20.

Obesity-related non-communicable diseases: South Asians vs White Caucasians.

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  • 1National Diabetes, Obesity, and Cholesterol Disorders Foundation (N-DOC), New Delhi, India.


South Asians are at higher risk than White Caucasians for the development of obesity and obesity-related non-communicable diseases (OR-NCDs), including insulin resistance, the metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and coronary heart disease (CHD). Rapid nutrition and lifestyle transitions have contributed to acceleration of OR-NCDs in South Asians. Differences in determinants and associated factors for OR-NCDs between South Asians and White Caucasians include body phenotype (high body fat, high truncal, subcutaneous and intra-abdominal fat, and low muscle mass), biochemical parameters (hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, hyperleptinemia, low levels of adiponectin and high levels of C-reactive protein), procoagulant state and endothelial dysfunction. Higher prevalence, earlier onset and increased complications of T2DM and CHD are often seen at lower levels of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) in South Asians than White Caucasians. In view of these data, lower cut-offs for obesity and abdominal obesity have been advocated for Asian Indians (BMI; overweight >23 to 24.9 kg m(-2) and obesity ≥ 25 kg m(-2); and WC; men ≥ 90 cm and women ≥ 80 cm, respectively). Imbalanced nutrition, physical inactivity, perinatal adverse events and genetic differences are also important contributory factors. Other differences between South Asians and White Caucasians include lower disease awareness and health-seeking behavior, delayed diagnosis due to atypical presentation and language barriers, and religious and sociocultural factors. All these factors result in poorer prevention, less aggressive therapy, poorer response to medical and surgical interventions, and higher morbidity and mortality in the former. Finally, differences in response to pharmacological agents may exist between South Asians and White Caucasians, although these have been inadequately studied. In view of these data, prevention and management strategies should be more aggressive for South Asians for more positive health outcomes. Finally, lower cut-offs of obesity and abdominal obesity for South Asians are expected to help physicians in better and more effective prevention of OR-NCDs.

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