Caution urged on new population survey detailing Asian American obesity rate

By Dr. George King


The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) with additional data briefs on hypertension, cholesterol and obesity among adults in the U.S. by age, gender, race and ethnicity. This detailed national survey of health characteristics, for the first time, includes important health status and information on Asian Americans (AA).

The CDC is to be applauded for including Asian Americans, the fastest growing minority in this country. However, the study, by using inaccurate criteria, comes to the incorrect conclusion that the AA population has a significantly lower rate of obesity among various ethnic groups and is therefore less at risk for obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. George King, chief scientific officer at Joslin Diabetes Center. (Image courtesy of Joslin Diabetes Center.) 金良城醫師,波士頓加斯林糖尿病研進會首席科研員。(圖片來自加斯林糖尿病研進會。)

Dr. George King, chief scientific officer at Joslin Diabetes Center. (Image courtesy of Joslin Diabetes Center.)

A great deal of evidence suggests that the body mass index (BMI) range used by federal health agencies to define obesity is inappropriately applied to the AA population. Thus, members of a national coalition of organizations that focuses on diabetes research, treatment, and advocacy of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI), urge both the CDC and the readers of the survey to put these results in the proper context before concluding that obesity is of less concern in the AA population than in other ethnic groups.

The CDC’s conclusion that the prevalence, and therefore risk, of obesity is lower in the AA population than other ethnic groups is likely to give a false impression of the health risks facing the AA population since many of the disorders that are related to excess weight occur at much lower BMI levels in the AA population. Thus, to apply criteria of obesity that are only applicable to other ethnic groups naturally results in an inaccurate conclusion. This misrepresentation could have a potentially detrimental impact on AA populations since it will decrease the attention paid to obesity-related health issues by health care providers and even Asian Americans themselves, especially if the insurance reimbursement policy is based on an incorrect standard of obesity.

The members of Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative and AANHPI Diabetes Coalition hope to work further with the scientists of CDC’s NHANES study to refine and reassess the data from this historic first sampling of the AA population. We want to make sure that this important analysis accurately illuminates the health and nutritional status of the very diverse and complex AANHPI community.


Dr. George King is the chief scientific officer at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and co-chair of the Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Diabetes Coalition.

For more information regarding diabetes in AA population, please visit

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