Why are Asians at Higher Risk?

Joint initiative between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Nutrition and the National University of Singapore, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Studies have shown that Asians are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, when compared with people of European ancestry.

Asians are also at risk of developing diabetes due to certain diet and lifestyle trends.  

  • Urbanization and modernization have led to less walking, less biking, and less daily physical activity.
  • Nearly 50% of adult men in Asian countries smoke regularly, which is associated with higher abdominal fat and a 45% increased risk of developing diabetes.
  • White rice and other refined grains, which are linked to increased risk of diabetes, make up a large proportion of daily energy intake in Asian diets.
  • Unhealthy trans fats and saturated fats, such as palm oil, are often used as cooking oils. 
  • Due to globalization, fast food is much more common and widely available. In one Singapore study of more than 43,000 Chinese adults, those who ate Western-style fast food more than twice a week had a 27% increased risk of developing diabetes compared to those who reported eating little or no fast food.
  • Poor nutrition when a mother is pregnant means that when that the baby grows up, he or she will be more likely to have high blood sugar, especially if rapidly transitioning to a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugary beverages, or fatty Western fast foods.
  • Air pollution, an increasing problem in Asia, may also increase risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.

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