Asian Americans More Likely to Be Diabetic, Less Likely to be Aware of It

NOVEMBER 20, 2016
Ryan Black
Despite a heightened risk of diabetes, Asian Americans are least likely to be screened for the disease, according to a new study from the University of Chicago.
 
"Asian Americans are not necessarily averse to screening tests," according to lead author Elizabeth Tung, MD, citing the study’s findings that even those who had completed breast and colon cancer screenings were less likely to be checked for diabetes. But  "even after accounting for education, access to healthcare and other key factors,” she says, “Asian Americans had 34 percent lower odds of being screened compared to non-Hispanic whites."
 
The study notes that Asian American patients are nearly twice as likely as white patients to have type 2 diabetes. They are also three times more likely to have the disease undiagnosed-half or more of all diabetic Asian Americans are unaware of their condition.
 
For this study, the University of Chicago researchers analyzed data from three years of an annual telephone study called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which featured self-reported data from over 500,000 respondents who met criteria for diabetes screening, 9,310 of whom were Asian American.
 
In total, they found that about 60% of white, African American, and mixed race people reported diabetes screening (59.2%, 60.2%, and 58.8% respectively), while American Indians clocked in at 56.2% and those of Pacific Island descent were at 50.3%. The only group screened in less than half of all cases were Asian Americans, who reported getting the necessary screening 47.1% of the time.
 
Due to their higher propensity for diabetes, for 2015 the American Diabetes Association actually lowered thresholds in their recommendations for diabetes screening for Asian Americans. They now recommend screening for those with a BMI of 23 or higher (down from 25) and at any age (rather than 45 or older).
 
"Doctors shouldn't neglect to screen Asian Americans just because they appear to be thin," Tung says. Even though proportionate to the general US population, Asian Americans tend to be less overweight, they are still at a higher-than-average diabetes risk.
 
The study was published last week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
 
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