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Researchers suggest new BMI thresholds for ethnic minorities

New BMI thresholds have been suggested for overweight and obese people from ethnic minorities. 

Currently, a BMI of 30kg/2m or above is defined as obese, but people from South Asian, Chinese and black populations have an equivalent risk of diabetes at lower BMIs than white people. 

Guidance released by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) earlier this year called for further studies to define the obesity thresholds for ethnic minorities. 

Researchers from the University of Glasgow analysed data on 490,288 people who participated in UK Biobank. 

They found that the rate of diabetes in caucasians classified as obese with a BMI of at least 30 was matched by South Asians with a BMI of at least 22, people of Chinese descent when they had a BMI of at least 24, and in black people with a BMI of at least 26. 

The researchers claim this supports the use of lower BMIs to define obesity in the different groups. 

The study also showed the differences between South Asian sub-groups were small. The new BMI cut-offs were 21.5 in Pakistani men compared with 22.0 in Indian men, and 21.6 in Pakistani women compared with 22.3 in Indian men. 

Professor Jill Pell, director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said: “This study confirms that we need to apply different thresholds for obesity interventions for different ethnic groups.

"If not, we are potentially subjecting non-white groups to discrimination by requiring a higher level of risk before we take action."

The research has been published online in the journal Diabetes Care [paywalled].