Asian women have greater abdominal and visceral adiposity than Caucasian women with similar body mass index

Nutr Diabetes. 2011 May 9;1(5):e6. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2011.2.


Background: In the Multiethnic Cohort Study, Japanese Americans (JA) have lower mean body mass index (BMI) compared with Caucasians, but show a higher waist-to-hip ratio at similar BMI values and a greater risk of diabetes and obesity-associated cancers.

Objective: We investigated the abdominal, visceral and hepatic fat distribution in these Asian and Caucasian Americans.

Design: A cross-sectional sample of 60 female cohort participants (30 JA and 30 Caucasians), of ages 60-65 years and BMIs 18.5-40 kg m(-2), underwent anthropometric measurements and a whole-body dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan: a subset of 48 women also had abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Results: By design, JA women had similar BMIs (mean 26.5 kg m(-2)) to Caucasian women (27.1 kg m(-2)). JA women were found to have a significantly smaller hip circumference (96.9 vs 103.6 cm; P=0.007) but not a significantly lower DXA total fat mass (25.5 vs 28.8 kg; P=0.16). After adjusting for age and DXA total fat mass, JA women had a greater waist-to-hip ratio (0.97 vs 0.89; P<0.0001), DXA trunk fat (15.4 vs 13.9 kg; P=0.0004) and MRI % abdominal visceral fat (23.9 vs 18.5%; P=0.01) and a lower DXA leg fat mass (8.2 vs 10.0 kg; P=<.0001). Their MRI % subcutaneous fat (33.4 vs 30.2%; P=0.21) and % liver fat (5.8 vs 3.8%; P=0.06) did not significantly differ from that of Caucasian women.

Conclusions: Our findings build on limited past evidence, suggesting that Asian women carry greater abdominal and visceral fat when compared with Caucasian women with similar overall adiposity. This may contribute to their elevated metabolic risk for obesity-related diseases.