South Asians living in the UK are up to six times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than White Europeans.
While South Asian people often have increased body fat and more fat stored around the abdomen, these differences cannot completely explain why their body tissues are more resistant to the effects of insulin.
Diabetes UK has funded research at the University of Glasgow which found that people with a South Asian background have a lower capacity to burn fat than White Europeans. The findings, published in the journal 'PLoS ONE', suggest this could be part of the reason why South Asian people are more insulin resistant and at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Physical activity may reduce insulin resistance
Dr Jason Gill, who led the study, said: "Our results suggest that the ability of South Asians' muscles to use fat as a fuel is lower than in Europeans. In other words, if a South Asian man and a European man were walking alongside each other at the same speed, the South Asian man's muscles would be burning less fat and this may contribute to a greater risk of developing diabetes."
He continued to say that regular exercise was known to improve this ability, and suggested this might be a key way for people from a South Asian background to lower their Type 2 diabetes risk.
South Asian people six times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes
Dr Victoria King, Head of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “We have known for some time that South Asian people have up to a six-fold increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Although we think this could be due to increased body fat and this fat being more likely to be stored around the abdomen, these factors can only explain part of the increased risk we see.”
She continued: “This very insightful and novel research, that Diabetes UK is pleased to have supported, suggests that the skeletal muscle of South Asian people is less able to use fatty acids and burns less fat during exercise and that these factors contribute significantly to the insulin resistance we see in South Asian people. This new insight could provide the basis for future studies looking at lifestyle or drug interventions to enhance the uptake and burning of fat in muscles, reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes in this high risk group.”