Insulin resistance syndrome (metabolic syndrome) and obesity in Asian Indians: evidence and implications

Nutrition. 2004 May;20(5):482-91. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.01.020.


Objectives: This review describes prevalence, determinants, and possible pathophysiologic mechanisms and suggests management and research directions for insulin resistance syndrome (metabolic syndrome) in Asian Indians.

Method: We reviewed the topic using the terms Asian Indians, Asians, South Asians, and Indians coupled with the terms insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, metabolic syndrome, and obesity from the databases Pubmed (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA) and Current Contents (Institute for Scientific Information, Thomson Scientific, Philadelphia, PA, USA) and from non-indexed publications of the medical research and governmental institutions in India.

Results: Asian Indians have a high prevalence of insulin resistance syndrome that may underlie their greater than normal tendency to develop diabetes mellitus and early atherosclerosis. Important reasons could be their excess body fat and adverse body fat patterning including abdominal adiposity even when the body mass index is within the currently defined normal limits. Some of these features have been reported at birth and childhood. Whether Asian Indians also have tendency to develop insulin resistance de novo, independent of total or regional adiposity, needs further investigation. Underlying genetic tendency or early-life adverse events may contribute to such a phenotype, but lifestyle factors alone or modulated by inherited factors appear to play an important role because obesity and dyslipidemia become worse with urbanization and migration. Systemic stress may contribute to insulin resistance syndrome in the intra-country and inter-country migrant Asian Indians.

Conclusions: High prevalences of excess body fat, adverse body fat patterning, hypertriglyceridemia, and insulin resistance beginning at a young age have been consistently recorded in Asian Indians irrespective of their geographic locations. These data suggest that primary prevention strategies should be initiated early in this ethnic group.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asian People / genetics*
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / genetics
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Prevalence