Diabetes in South Asians: Is the Phenotype Different?

  1. Viswanathan Mohan
  1. Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, WHO Collaborating Centre for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, and International Diabetes Federation Centre of Education, Gopalapuram, Chennai, India
  1. Corresponding author: Viswanathan Mohan, drmohans{at}

The South Asian region is home to more than 20% of the world’s population and includes three of the ten most populous countries in the world. Significant numbers of South Asians (SA) also live in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, the U.K., the Middle East, southern Africa, and the Pacific region.

South Asia forms one of the epicenters of the global diabetes epidemic. According to estimates released by the International Diabetes Federation, more than 70 million individuals in the region have diabetes (1). Over the past couple of decades, there has been a worrying increase in the prevalence rates of diabetes in the region. The earliest multicenter studies on the prevalence of diabetes in India in the early 1970s showed rates of around 2% in urban areas and 1% in rural areas (2). The latest available data show that these rates have increased to nearly 20% in some urban areas and 10% in the rural areas (3).

Studies in the South Asian diaspora residing in the U.K. during the early 1980s suggested the possibility of an Asian Indian or South Asian phenotype (Fig. 1). This term refers to a combination of characteristics that predisposes SA to the development of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It has also been shown that type 2 diabetes occurs at younger ages and at lower …

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