Background: Small studies have shown that South Asians (SAs) have more total body, subcutaneous, visceral and hepatic fat and abnormal adipokine levels compared with Whites. However, comprehensive studies of body composition and adipokines in SAs compared with other ethnic groups are lacking.
Methods: Using harmonized data, we performed a cross-sectional analysis of two community-based cohorts: Mediators of Atherosclerosis of South Asians Living in America (MASALA, n=906) and Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA which included 2622 Whites, 803 Chinese Americans, 1893 African Americans and 1496 Latinos). General linear models were developed to assess the ethnic differences in ectopic fat (visceral, intermuscular and pericardial fat; and hepatic attenuation), lean muscle mass and adipokines (adiponectin and resistin). Models were adjusted for age, sex, site, alcohol use, smoking, exercise, education, household income and body mass index. Ectopic fat models were additionally adjusted for hypertension, diabetes, high-density lipoprotein and triglycerides. Adipokine models were adjusted for subcutaneous, visceral, intermuscular and pericardial fat; and hepatic attenuation.
Results: Compared with all ethnic groups in MESA (Whites, Chinese Americans, African Americans and Latinos), SAs had greater intermuscular fat (pairwise comparisons with each MESA group, P<0.01), lower hepatic attenuation (P<0.001) and less lean mass (P<0.001). SAs had greater visceral fat compared with Chinese Americans, African Americans and Latinos (P<0.05) and greater pericardial fat compared with African Americans (P<0.001). SAs had lower adiponectin levels compared with other ethnic groups (P<0.01; except Chinese Americans) and higher resistin levels than all groups (P<0.001), even after adjusting for differences in body composition.
Conclusion: There are significant ethnic differences in ectopic fat, lean mass and adipokines. A less favorable body composition and adipokine profile in SAs may partially explain the increased predisposition to cardiometabolic disease. The mechanisms that underlie these differences warrant further investigation.