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New BMI guidelines for ethnic minorities

A health research team indicated that the thresholds of BMI need to be examined in relation to defining overweight and obese individuals in ethnic communities. Body Mass Index defines whether an individual is overweight or obese, both of which increase the risk of diabetes. A BMI of 30kg/m2 of higher currently means a definition of obesity. However, South Asian, Chinese and Black people have a higher risk of diabetes at lower BMIs than White people, prompting the call for a revised scale. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence recently recommended that further studies should be conducted to define thresholds for ethnic minorities.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow analysed data from almost 500,000 people to provide new thresholds. The research team found that rates of diabetes observed among White people classified as obese with a BMI of at least 30, was matched by South Asians with a BMI of at least 22, Chinese with a BMI at least 24 and Black people with a BMI at least 26. These findings support the use of lower BMIs to define obesity in these differing groups.

The Director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, Professor Jill Pell, reportedly said: “This study was only possible because of the strengths of UK Biobank. It is a very large study with sufficient numbers of participants from all of the main ethnic groups. Therefore, we were able to produce separate cut-offs for each ethnic group. This study confirms that we need to apply different thresholds for obesity interventions for different ethnic groups. If not, we are potentially subjecting non-white groups to discrimination by requiring a higher level of risk before we take action. Furthermore, a blanket figure for all non-white groups is inappropriate. We need to apply different thresholds for South Asian, Black and Chinese individuals.”

Professor Naveed Sattar, of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said: “Further research is needed to understand why South Asians get diabetes at much lower BMIs but in the meantime this study underlines the need for tailored advice for different ethnic groups.”

Uduakobong Efanga Ntuk, a PhD student who conducted a large part of the research, said: “Obesity is the main cause of the worldwide increase in diabetes. Intervening at lower obesity cut-points in people from non-white descent could save many lives. Diabetes prevention programs need to be ethnic specific. People from South Asian, Chinese and Black descent need to be made aware that they are at a higher risk of diabetes. By adopting a healthy lifestyle including physical activity and a healthy diet, they can significantly reduce their risk.”


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