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Some Ethnic Groups More Vulnerable to Dangerous Fat

FRIDAY, July 29 (HealthDay News) -- Some ethnic groups are more likely than others to store dangerous fat around their internal organs as they gain weight, according to a new study.

This organ-hugging fat, which can lead to diabetes and coronary artery disease, is more common among people from South Asia, the Canadian researchers reported in the July 28 online edition of the journal PLoS ONE.

"The new study showed South Asians have less space to store fat below the skin than white Caucasians," Dr. Sonia Anand, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, said in a university news release. "Their excess fat, therefore, overflows to ectopic compartments, in the abdomen and liver where it may affect function."

This extra fat surrounding vital organs, known as visceral fat, is also associated with metabolic problems, including elevated blood sugar and abnormal blood fats -- risk factors that ultimately lead to coronary artery disease, the study authors explained.

The researchers found that, compared with white people with the same body mass index (BMI), people who originate from the Indian subcontinent have more risk factors for heart disease including type 2 diabetes, low HDL ("good") cholesterol and more abdominal obesity.

"Many Canadians of South Asian descent -- as well as those of Aboriginal, African and Chinese descent -- are experiencing historic levels of risk for heart disease and stroke. It is only through research like this that we can learn how better to treat and prevent these diseases, so lives are not cut short," said Mary Lewis, vice-president of research, advocacy and health promotion of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

"This study helps explain why South Asians experience weight-related health problems at lower BMI levels than [whites]. For the clinician, this also means that individuals of South Asian heritage need to be screened for the presence of heart disease and diabetes at lower BMIs," Dr. Arya Sharma, a co-author of the study and director of the Canadian Obesity Network, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about obesity.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: McMaster University, news release, July 28, 2011

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