Ethnicity modifies the effect of obesity on insulin resistance in pregnancy: a comparison of Asian, South Asian, and Caucasian women

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Jan;91(1):93-7. doi: 10.1210/jc.2005-1253. Epub 2005 Oct 25.


Context: Women of Asian and South Asian descent are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus compared with Caucasians, despite lower body mass index (BMI). Nevertheless, there has been limited study of insulin action during pregnancy in these ethnic groups.

Objective: The objective of the study was to compare insulin sensitivity in pregnancy in Asian, South Asian, and Caucasian subjects and to determine whether the impact of obesity on insulin action is modified by ethnicity.

Design and participants: A cross-sectional study was performed in outpatients undergoing oral glucose tolerance testing in late pregnancy. Participants were stratified into three groups: 1) Caucasian (n = 116); 2) South Asian (n = 31); and 3) Asian (n = 28).

Main outcome measure: Insulin sensitivity was measured using the oral glucose tolerance test (IS(OGTT)) index of M. Matsuda and R. DeFronzo, previously validated in pregnancy.

Results: There were no significant ethnic differences in insulin sensitivity despite variation in prepregnancy BMI (Caucasians, 25.2 kg/m(2); South Asians, 23.3 kg/m(2); Asians, 21.4 kg/m(2); overall P = 0.0001). On multiple linear regression analysis, the strongest independent determinants of IS(OGTT) were gestational diabetes mellitus (t = -5.71; P < 0.0001) and BMI (t = -5.43; P < 0.0001). Importantly, both Asian (t = -2.87; P = 0.0047) and South Asian (t = -2.46; P = 0.015) ethnicity also emerged as negative, independent determinants of IS(OGTT). Furthermore, Asian ethnicity significantly modified the association of prepregnancy BMI with IS(OGTT) (interaction term, t = -2.29; P = 0.0231).

Conclusions: Asian and South Asian ethnicity are both independently associated with increased insulin resistance in late pregnancy. Prepregnancy BMI has a much greater effect on insulin resistance in pregnancy in Asian women than in Caucasians. Ethnicity thus emerges as a factor that modulates the effect of obesity on insulin resistance in pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asia, Southeastern / ethnology
  • Asian Americans
  • Biomarkers
  • Body Mass Index
  • C-Peptide / blood
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Proinsulin / blood
  • United States
  • Whites


  • Biomarkers
  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin
  • Proinsulin