Ethnicity determines obesity risks

September 7, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Canadian researchers led by SFU kinesiologist Scott Lear have determined that ethnic heritage dictates where the body stores fat.

And that means some ethnicities face higher risks than others for diseases related to obesity.

Lear, a School of Kinesiology assistant professor and Canadian Obesity Network investigator, led the team that discovered Chinese and South Asians have more dangerous abdominal fat than Europeans, putting them at greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other complications.

Lear’s research also suggests current measuring techniques for healthy body fat are not as accurate when used in those ethnic populations, leading to difficulty in diagnosis and treatment.

“We now have definitive proof that current targets for waist circumference and body mass index measurements used by physicians, which were developed based on Caucasian populations, are not able to accurately determine health risks in these groups,” Lear explains. “Clearly, we can no longer use a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosing these serious medical conditions.”

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared the amount and distribution of abdominal fat, as well as total body fat mass and lifestyle factors, in more than 800 healthy Chinese, South Asian, Aboriginal and European participants. The project was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute for Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes.

Lear says that new guidelines are urgently needed to properly screen these groups.

“Canada’s population is increasing, and many of our new immigrants are coming from China and South Asia. We need to be able to identify risks at an early stage, or we will see increased healthcare costs and mortality in the future.”
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