Ethnic-Specific Obesity Cutoffs for Diabetes Risk: Cross-sectional Study of 490,288 UK Biobank Participants

  1. Jill P. Pell1
  1. 1Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.
  2. 2Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.
  1. Corresponding author: Jill P. Pell, jill.pell{at}


OBJECTIVE To compare the relationship between adiposity and prevalent diabetes across ethnic groups in the UK Biobank cohort and to derive ethnic-specific obesity cutoffs that equate to those developed on white populations in terms of diabetes prevalence.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS UK Biobank recruited 502,682 U.K. residents aged 40–69 years. We used baseline data on the 490,288 participants from the four largest ethnic subgroups: 471,174 (96.1%) white, 9,631 (2.0%) South Asian, 7,949 (1.6%) black, and 1,534 (0.3%) Chinese. Regression models were developed for the association between anthropometric measures (BMI, waist circumference, percentage body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio) and prevalent diabetes, stratified by sex and adjusted for age, physical activity, socioeconomic status, and heart disease.

RESULTS Nonwhite participants were two- to fourfold more likely to have diabetes. For the equivalent prevalence of diabetes at 30 kg/m2 in white participants, BMI equated to the following: South Asians, 22.0 kg/m2; black, 26.0 kg/m2; Chinese women, 24.0 kg/m2; and Chinese men, 26.0 kg/m2. Among women, a waist circumference of 88 cm in the white subgroup equated to the following: South Asians, 70 cm; black, 79 cm; and Chinese, 74 cm. Among men, a waist circumference of 102 cm equated to 79, 88, and 88 cm for South Asian, black, and Chinese participants, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS Obesity should be defined at lower thresholds in nonwhite populations to ensure that interventions are targeted equitably based on equivalent diabetes prevalence. Furthermore, within the Asian population, a substantially lower obesity threshold should be applied to South Asian compared with Chinese groups.

  • Received December 19, 2013.
  • Accepted May 2, 2014.

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  1. Diabetes Care
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