Epidemiology of diabetes among South Asians in the United States: lessons from the MASALA study

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2021 Jul;1495(1):24-39. doi: 10.1111/nyas.14530. Epub 2020 Nov 20.


South Asian individuals in the United States are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (T2DM); however, the mechanisms behind this are not well understood. The Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA) study is the only longitudinal cohort of South Asians in the United States and provides key insights as to the epidemiology of T2DM in South Asians. Evidence from the MASALA study suggests that South Asians experience a disproportionately high burden of prevalent and incident T2DM compared with members of other race/ethnic groups. Higher insulin resistance in South Asians, even with low body mass index (BMI), more impairment in insulin secretion, and greater deposition of ectopic fat likely play a role in T2DM etiology. Furthermore, South Asian migrants to the United States experience a range of factors related to acculturation, social networks, and religious beliefs, which may impact physical activity and dietary practices. Interventions to prevent T2DM in South Asians should include a focus on cultural factors related to health and should consider the complete mechanistic pathway and the relative contributions of insulin resistance, β cell dysfunction, and ectopic fat deposition on T2DM development in South Asians, particularly in those with lower BMI.

Keywords: BMI; MASALA; South Asian; ethnicity; insulin resistance; the United States; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asian Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Body Composition
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Insulin Secretion / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology