Background: Adults of South Asian origin living in the United Kingdom have high risks of type 2 diabetes and central obesity; raised circulating insulin, triglyceride, and C-reactive protein concentrations; and low HDL-cholesterol when compared with white Europeans. Adults of African-Caribbean origin living in the UK have smaller increases in type 2 diabetes risk, raised circulating insulin and HDL-cholesterol, and low triglyceride and C-reactive protein concentrations. We examined whether corresponding ethnic differences were apparent in childhood.
Methods and findings: We performed a cross-sectional survey of 4,796 children aged 9-10 y in three UK cities who had anthropometric measurements (68% response) and provided blood samples (58% response); ethnicity was based on parental definition. In age-adjusted comparisons with white Europeans (n = 1,153), South Asian children (n = 1,306) had higher glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) (% difference: 2.1, 95% CI 1.6 to 2.7), fasting insulin (% difference 30.0, 95% CI 23.4 to 36.9), triglyceride (% difference 12.9, 95% CI 9.4 to 16.5), and C-reactive protein (% difference 43.3, 95% CI 28.6 to 59.7), and lower HDL-cholesterol (% difference -2.9, 95% CI -4.5 to -1.3). Higher adiposity levels among South Asians (based on skinfolds and bioimpedance) did not account for these patterns. Black African-Caribbean children (n = 1,215) had higher levels of HbA1c, insulin, and C-reactive protein than white Europeans, though the ethnic differences were not as marked as in South Asians. Black African-Caribbean children had higher HDL-cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels than white Europeans; adiposity markers were not increased.
Conclusions: Ethnic differences in type 2 diabetes precursors, mostly following adult patterns, are apparent in UK children in the first decade. Some key determinants operate before adult life and may provide scope for early prevention.