Diabetes Q&A

Diabetes Risk High at Lower BMI Levels in Some Groups

The risk for developing type 2 diabetes varies by age and ethnicity across body mass index (BMI) levels, according to a recent study. South Asians had the highest risk for developing diabetes at lower BMI levels compared with other ethnic groups.

In the study, researchers estimated the probability of developing type 2 diabetes at different BMI levels using data from a cohort of 90,367 patients with diabetes and 362,548 patients without diabetes matched for age, sex, and ethnicity (controls). The mean age was 56 years and 56% of patients included in the study were male.
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Patients with diabetes had significantly higher mean BMI levels at diagnosis compared with matched controls. At diagnosis, white Europeans (n=79,270) were 58 years of age and had a mean BMI of 32.5 kg/m2, African-Caribbeans (n=4115) were 48 years of age and had a mean BMI of 31.1 kg/m2, and South Asians were 46 years of age and had a mean BMI of 29.2 kg/m2 (n=7252).

Compared with White Europeans and African-Caribbeans, South Asians were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a BMI below 30 kg/m2 (38% vs 26% and 29%, respectively). South Asian men and women had a significantly higher probability of developing diabetes in continuously measured BMI ranges of 18 kg/m2 to 30 kg/m2 within the age range of 18 to 70 years compared with White Europeans and African-Caribbeans.

South-Asians and African-Caribbeans had a significantly higher probability of developing diabetes within the normal and overweight categories compared to White Europeans across all age groups below 70 years of age.

“Risk patterns of developing diabetes at different levels of obesity varies among ethnic groups across all ages, while South Asians and African-Caribbeans carry the highest risk at a younger age and at lower adiposity burden,” the researchers concluded.

—Melissa Weiss


Paul SK, Owusu Adjah ES, Samantha M, et al. Comparison of body mass index at diagnosis of diabetes in a multi-ethnic population: A case-control study with matched non-diabetic controls [published online March 17, 2017]. Diabetes Obes Metab.