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J Cardiovasc Risk. 1996 Jun;3(3):263-70.

Abdominal fat distribution and insulin levels only partially explain adverse cardiovascular risk profile in Asian Indians.

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  • 1International Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia.



Asian Indians show an increased risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and coronary heart disease, together with adverse fat distribution and hyperinsulinaemia relative to other ethnic groups. Using population-based data, we investigated the question of whether the adverse fat distribution observed in Indians can be explained by differences in behavioural risk factor levels. We have examined the question of whether ethnic differences in fat distribution are responsible for the unfavourable risk factor profile of Indians.


Fat distribution (waist: hip ratio) was compared in population-based samples of Asian Indian (n = 4394), Creole (n = 1746), and Chinese (n = 425) Mauritians, after controlling for body mass index and other factors. The contribution of this ratio to ethnic differences in cardiovascular disease risk factors and the role of fasting insulin concentrations were also determined.


Indian men had the highest mean waist: hip ratio, despite having the lowest body mass index. In Indian women the mean waist: hip ratio and body mass index were intermediate between those of Chinese and Creole women. Indians of both sexes had low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and HDL: total cholesterol compared with Creoles or Chinese, whereas triglycerides levels were highest in Indian men but intermediate in Indian women. Mean fasting and 2 h insulin concentrations were not consistently highest in the Indian subgroups. Blood pressure and serum urate levels were lowest in Indians of both sexes and Indian women also had lower total cholesterol concentrations than either Creoles or Chinese. The elevated waist: hip ratio in Indians was not explained by differences in physical activity, cigarette smoking, or alcohol consumption and the differences in this ratio (and insulin levels) did not explain the observed ethnic differences in metabolic parameters.


The susceptibility of Indians to abdominal obesity contributed to the less desirable levels of some, but not all, cardiovascular risk factors. Ethnic differences in cardiovascular risk factors in Mauritians were not explained by differences in abdominal obesity, serum insulin or behavioural risk factors. These data suggest that it is over-simplistic to ascribe the adverse cardiovascular risk factor profile commonly observed in Asian Indians to a tendency to abdominal obesity.

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