A chat with George King, Asian American Diabetes Initiative founder

By Kenny Sui-Fung Yim

George King, MD, sat down to tell me more about the man behind the doctor’s coat.

Born in Taiwan, he grew up in Richmond, Va. He studied at Johns Hopkins University and then went on to Duke University’s Medical School. He continued his medical journey by training at the National Institutes of Health, where he developed his interest in diabetes. King joined Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School in 1981. He is currently a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the chief scientific officer/director of research at Joslin Diabetes Center. In 2000, King, with four other families, founded the Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI).

Before 1980, diabetes had a low prevalence in the Asian population. It is a “disease of abundance” that commonly occurs more in developed nations. There are 26 million diabetic patients in the United States now, with 25,000 of them treated at Joslin annually. The numbers are even more alarming in China, which has close to 100 million diagnosed cases. This is worrying because nobody knows exactly why so many Chinese have the illness without being overweight. King suggested it may have to do with fat in the abdomen, which is often hidden in Chinese and Asian populations.

Like a true clinician, King described his father factually. He was 5’6” and 123 pounds when he was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1980s. Being thin did not preclude him from developing the disorder. The doctor at the time actually told him to lose weight and eat less, even though he couldn’t lose anymore, which caused King to shake his head. There is a stereotype that thin Asian people don’t have too much risk for diabetes, so doctors often don’t ask the right questions.

According to King, there needs to be better literature and more information about diet, in particular, to help break down myths about the disorder. He says that AADI is the leader in providing information appropriate to the Asian population. King is impassioned about income inequality as a reason why care may not be as good for some. More needs to be done to overcome the disparity, so it is not just the wealthy that get the complete treatment.

In his free time, King likes to exercise, by playing tennis and gardening. He especially likes to plant new flowers and landscape, which includes getting rid of weeds and cutting grass.

Finally, for anyone wishing to be a doctor, he said, “it’s a wonderful profession” that he enjoys but “don’t go into medicine for making a lot of money. Do it if you really like it and want to help.”

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This post is also available in: Chinese

About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England

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