Objective: Type 2 diabetes and obesity have genetic and environmental determinants. We studied the effects of different environments on these diseases in Pima Indians in Mexico and the U.S.
Research design and methods: Adult Pima-Indian and non-Pima populations in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico were examined using oral glucose tolerance tests and assessments for obesity, physical activity, and other risk factors. Results were compared with those from Pima Indians in Arizona. Both Pima populations were typed for DNA polymorphisms to establish their genetic similarity.
Results: The age- and sex-adjusted prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Mexican Pima Indians (6.9%) was less than one-fifth that in the U.S. Pima Indians (38%) and similar to that of non-Pima Mexicans (2.6%). The prevalence of obesity was similar in the Mexican Pima Indians (7% in men and 20% in women) and non-Pima Mexicans (9% in men and 27% in women) but was much lower than in the U.S. Pima Indians. Levels of physical activity were much higher in both Mexican groups than in the U.S. Pima Indians. The two Pima groups share considerable genetic similarity relative to other Native Americans.
Conclusions: The much lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity in the Pima Indians in Mexico than in the U.S. indicates that even in populations genetically prone to these conditions, their development is determined mostly by environmental circumstances, thereby suggesting that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. This study provides compelling evidence that changes in lifestyle associated with Westernization play a major role in the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes.