The metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and its surrogates in African and white subjects with type 2 diabetes in South Africa

Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2008 Dec;6(4):247-55. doi: 10.1089/met.2008.0003.


Background: Coronary heart disease (CHD) is rare in diabetic Africans in South Africa, unlike diabetic African-Americans, despite moderate levels of conventional risk factors, with absence of the usual male predominance. Because the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance (IR) are associated with CHD, we have analyzed the prevalence and severity of the metabolic syndrome, and IR, in African and white subjects with type 2 diabetes.

Methods: A total of 500 African and 254 white diabetic patients were evaluated for features of the metabolic syndrome (International Diabetes Federation [IDF] definition); insulin resistance (homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance [HOMA-IR]) was calculated in subgroups.

Results: In men, Africans had a lower body mass index (BMI) and smaller waists than white subjects (p < 0.0001); the metabolic syndrome was present in 46.5% and 74.1% of African and white patients respectively (p < 0.0001). In women, frequencies of the metabolic syndrome were similar, but severe metabolic syndrome (4 or 5 criteria) was more frequent in the white group (73.1%) than in the Africans (52.9%) (p = 0.0003). The prevalence of hypertriglyceridemia was lower in African men and women (p < 0.0001) and contributed to their lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome/severe metabolic syndrome. Compared with the white patients, in African subjects HOMA-IR was 40% lower (p < 0.0001), and correlated with the triglyceride:high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio (TG:HDL-C) (r = 0.409, p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: In diabetic Africans, in comparison with white patients, the lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in men and severe metabolic syndrome in women, and lesser insulin resistance, might contribute to their lower risk of CHD; the higher prevalence in women might contribute to the reversal of the male:female ratio. The TG:HDL-C ratio appears to be a valid estimate of insulin resistance in diabetic Africans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black People
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cholesterol, HDL / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / ethnology*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / ethnology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • South Africa
  • Triglycerides / metabolism
  • White People


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Triglycerides