Nearly 1 in 3 Asian Americans have diabetes but don’t know they have it.
Most healthcare providers use the body mass index (BMI)—a person’s weight divided by their height—as a way to assess diabetes risks.1 But the standard BMI measures may be unable to reflect diabetes and obesity risks in Asian Americans accurately.
Asian Americans tend to have higher fat distributions but lower muscle mass compared to other ethnic groups, and their body weight might be lower as a result, according to Caroline Ong, MD, MS, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
“They may not look fat, but they have significant visceral fat, which is the fat that we are concerned about,” Ong told Verywell. “This fat is metabolically active and surrounds your heart, liver, and internal organs that you may not see. It also influences your insulin sensitivity and glucose intolerance and impacts your overall cardiometabolic health.”
Research shows that prediabetes and diabetes are prevalent in Asian populations even if their BMIs are within a healthy range—a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.2 And using BMI as a broad indicator might also neglect important nuances among different ethnicities in Asian communities.
Most health professionals use body mass index (BMI) to assess whether someone is at risk for health diseases like diabetes, however, this method may not be as accurate for Asian Americans due to their unique body composition.
Experts say Asian Americans tend to have higher fat distributions, more visceral fat, and lower muscle mass than other racial groups.
In addition to BMI, Asian Americans should consider other screening measures like waist circumference and blood pressure, and cholesterol levels when assessing their risk for diabetes.