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Study reveals extent of Type 2 diabetes risk for people of South Asian, African and African Caribbean descent

New research findings have shown that approximately half of all South Asian, Black African and African Caribbean people in the UK will develop Type 2 diabetes by the age of 80, compared to only one in five people of European descent.

The findings, published in the journal Diabetes Care are the first to reveal the full extent of ethnic differences in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The new information comes from the Southall and Brent Revisited (SABRE) study, a large-scale population-based investigation which has followed 4,200 middle-aged Londoners of European, South Asian and African Caribbean descent for over 20 years.

South Asian men diagnosed with diabetes 5 years younger

The study revealed that by age 80, twice as many British South Asian, Black African and African Caribbean men and women had developed diabetes compared with Europeans of the same age.

The researchers, from Imperial College London, found that Black Africans, African Caribbeans and White Europeans tend to be diagnosed at around the same age (66-67 years), whereas South Asian men were 5 years younger on average when diabetes was diagnosed at an even greater risk of related complications.

Risk factors in ethnic women: large waists and insulin resistance

The study also revealed that higher body fat levels (especially around the waist) and resistance to insulin explained the increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in South Asian and African Caribbean women. However, this explained only part of the risk in South Asian and African Caribbean men, suggesting that other risk factors, which are as yet unknown, may also play a part.

Risk assessment and screening for South Asian, Black African and African Caribbean people should happen from the age of 25 (as recommended by NICE), enabling those with the condition to be diagnosed, and those at risk – to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk. This is something Diabetes UK has been doing through its Community Champions programme for over 2 years.

Awareness levels are low among black and minority ethnic communities and more needs to be done. With the right action early on, people can reduce their risk of diabetes and their risk of related complications.

Avoid being overweight to reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes

Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said, “These findings show us how serious the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is for people from South Asian, African and African Caribbean backgrounds.  This is why people from these communities should be screened earlier than the general population - from the age of 25 rather than 40. While it is important for everyone to maintain a healthy weight, for people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – such as these groups – it is even more important to avoid being overweight and reduce their risk.

“We know that awareness of the condition is particularly low in these groups so more needs to be done so that people know about of the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes.

Living with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes for 10 years increases risk of complications

“People need to know their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and get diagnosed as early as possible. We know that people from South Asian backgrounds can often be living with the condition for around ten years before they are diagnosed, which increases the risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.

We will continue to fund studies looking into risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

“In-depth cohort studies like the SABRE study are useful because they help us to visualise the long-term picture of diabetes. We will continue to fund and monitor studies that examine the complex interaction of genes and other factors and their influence on the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. We look forward to seeing further evidence to determine where support and change is needed.”

SABRE study

The SABRE study that produced these findings was funded by the Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation and the preliminary research was funded by the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK.

Active Wellbeing 2023 is running from 1-28 February