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A Surprising Finding on Diabetes in Vietnamese Americans

By LIDA TUNESI

New research has found that nine out of 10 Vietnamese Americans with diabetes are not obese. Even when researchers lowered the body mass index (BMI) cut-off point for defining obesity, the researchers found that over three-quarters of diabetic Vietnamese Americans were non-obese. In comparison, only 50% of diabetic non-Hispanic whites were not obese. 

Professor Keith Chan of Hunter College was an author on the study, which appears in Chronic Illness. The research used data from seven years of the California Health Interview Survey.

The takeaway: Vietnamese Americans are much more likely to have diabetes than non-obese people in non-Hispanic white populations. Being overweight is a known risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, but this study suggests that Vietnamese Americans would benefit from diabetes screenings regardless of BMI.

The study also highlights how important it is to look at health trends by ethnic group. In many health studies, Vietnamese Americans are lumped in with other ethnic groups under the “East Asian” category. This can obscure important differences between populations.

Additionally, when taking into account the risk factors of individuals who responded to the survey—such as age, likelihood of living in poverty, smoking history and exercise levels—Vietnamese Americans had 60% higher odds of having diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

The authors’ goal is to develop improved prevention and screening guidelines, because research shows that Asian Americans are less likely to receive diabetes screenings. Not only is being undiagnosed dangerous on its own, it also means that individuals are living without the knowledge that they have an added risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Future studies could also look at factors that aren’t considered in the California Health Interview Survey, such as sleeping patterns, and white rice intake, which can raise one’s risk for the disease.

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Keith Chan (Assistant Professor, Health and Aging, Social Work) | Profile 1

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Hunter College