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Maturitas. 2010 Apr;65(4):315-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2009.12.012. Epub 2010 Jan 15.

Ethnic differences in body composition and the associated metabolic profile: a comparative study between Asians and Caucasians.

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  • 1Department of Human Biology, Nutrition and Toxicology Research Institute Maastricht, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.


It is estimated that Asia will be the home of more than 100 million people with type 2 diabetes by the year of 2025. This region combines a high proportion of the world's population with rapidly rising diabetes prevalence rates. The increase in diabetes in Asia differs from that reported in other parts of the world: it has developed in a shorter time, in a younger age group, and in people with lower body-mass index (BMI). Studies reported that for the same BMI, Asians have a higher body fat percentage, a prominent abdominal obesity, a higher intramyocellular lipid and/or a higher liver fat content compared to Caucasians. These characteristics may contribute to a higher predisposition to insulin resistance at a lesser degree of obesity than Caucasians. The differences in body composition are more pronounced depending on the region. For the same BMI, among three major ethnic groups in Asia, Asian Indians have the highest body fat, followed by Malay and Chinese. Lower insulin sensitivity is already observed in Asian Indian adolescents with a higher body fat and abdominal obesity compared to Caucasian adolescents. In general, Asian adolescents share the same feature of body composition such as higher body subcutaneous fat, lower appendicular skeletal muscle and lower gynoid fat compared to Caucasian adolescents. This unfavourable body composition may predispose to the development of insulin resistance at later age. Genetics may play a role and the interaction with environmental factors (changes in lifestyle) could increase the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome.

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