Diabetes in South Asians

Diabet Med. 2014 Oct;31(10):1153-62. doi: 10.1111/dme.12540.


Economic, dietary and other lifestyle transitions have been occurring rapidly in most South Asian countries, making their populations more vulnerable to developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Recent data show an increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in urban areas as well as in semi-urban and rural areas, inclusive of people belonging to middle and low socio-economic strata. Prime determinants for Type 2 diabetes in South Asians include physical inactivity, imbalanced diets, abdominal obesity, excess hepatic fat and, possibly, adverse perinatal and early life nutrition and intra-country migration. It is reported that Type 2 diabetes affects South Asians a decade earlier and some complications, for example nephropathy, are more prevalent and progressive than in other races. Further, prevalence of pre-diabetes is high, and so is conversion to diabetes, while more than 50% of those who are affected remain undiagnosed. Attitudes, cultural differences and religious and social beliefs pose barriers in effective prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes in South Asians. Inadequate resources, insufficient healthcare budgets, lack of medical reimbursement and socio-economic factors contribute to the cost of diabetes management. The challenge is to develop new translational strategies, which are pragmatic, cost-effective and scalable and can be adopted by the South Asian countries with limited resources. The key areas that need focus are: generation of awareness, prioritizing health care for vulnerable subgroups (children, women, pregnant women and the underprivileged), screening of high-risk groups, maximum coverage of the population with essential medicines, and strengthening primary care. An effective national diabetes control programme in each South Asian country should be formulated, with these issues in mind.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia / epidemiology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy
  • Health Promotion
  • Health Transition
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Rural Health / ethnology
  • Urban Health / ethnology