Why Do People of Asian Descent Get Diabetes?

Despite having lower body weight, Asian Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have diabetes. Diabetes is a rapidly growing health challenge among Asians and Pacific Islanders who have immigrated to the United States, affecting about 10 % of Asian Americans; about 90 to 95 % of Asians with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The higher rate of type 2 diabetes in Asian descents results from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Interestingly, the rate of diabetes in Chinese Americans is notably higher than the rate in the Chinese population living in rural China. Likewise, studies show that rates of diabetes are higher in Japanese Americans living in the U.S. compared to Japanese living in Japan, pointing to environment and lifestyle as an important contributing factor. On the other hand, second and third generation Japanese Americans, who are well acculturated in the mainstream American lifestyle, still have higher diabetes rates compared with Caucasians, suggesting a strong role of genetics in the development of diabetes. This complex interaction between genetics and lifestyle necessitates more extensive research.
Because Asian descents develop diabetes at a body weight considered "normal" by mainstream western standard, some have concluded that obesity is not an important cause for diabetes in Asian descents. On the contrary, according to Dr. William Hsu, Director of the Asian Clinic at Joslin, "Asian descents need to carefully guard their weight because their risk for developing diabetes rises sharply even with a small amount of weight gain above the target appropriate for their ethnicity". To determine if you are overweight, click here.
Although research is ongoing in this field, it is believed that consuming a western diet high in fat and calories, decreased physical activity and genetic makeup are all contributing factors to this serious epidemic in Asian American populations. The Asian American Diabetes Initiative is currently conducting a research study to determine the role of diet in the development of diabetes among Asian descents.