A study published this week reveals that Asians, along with African-Americans and Hispanics, have high risk factors for heart disease even with normal weight.
Researchers studied data from 2,622 Caucasian, 1,893 African-American, 1,496 Hispanic, 803 Chinese-American and 803 South Asian participants aged 44 to 84. They used Body Mass Index (BMI), a height-to-weight ratio, to determine whether participants are normal, overweight or obese.
The World Health Organization defines BMI scores from 18.5 to 24.9 as normal, 25 to 29.9 as overweight and 30 or above as obese. This applies to Caucasians, Blacks and Hispanics.
But for South Asian and Chinese-Americans, the scale is slightly different: BMI scores from 18.5 to 22.9 are normal, but 23 to 27.4 is considered overweight while 27.5 or above is obese. This is due to the fact that they tend to have higher risks for heart disease and diabetes at a lower BMI than other ethnicities.
The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that among those with normal BMIs, South Asians had the highest risk factors (43.6%), followed by Hispanics (38.5%), Chinese-Americans (32.2%), African-Americans (31.1%) and Caucasians (21%).
South Asian participants represented Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Lead author Unjali Gujral of the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center told NBC:
“One of the messages of the paper is that in using overweight and obesity as the main criteria, clinicians are likely to miss a large number of people, especially in race-ethnic minority populations, that are at high risk but are normal weight.”
Gujral stressed that the results simply suggest that although a person of a race-ethnic minority group is thinner than a white person, he/she would still have as much risk factors.
And while the study does not speak for other Asians, Gujral speculates that “we would have a higher risk in all Asian populations for these heart disease risk factors at normal weight compared to white individuals.”
She advised everyone to watch their health and consult healthcare providers (via Reuters):
“We advocate a heart healthy diet and lots of exercise in all individuals, regardless of race/ethnicity and body weight, but especially in those who are members of racial/ethnic minority populations.
“It is also important for patients, particularly those who are Asian American, Hispanic American and African American to have conversations with their physicians/healthcare providers regarding their increased risk for heart disease even at normal weight.”