Ethnicity affects cardiovascular risk: Study

ethnicity affects cardiovascularWe’ve been told for ages that in order to live a long and healthy life, we need to have a healthy lifestyle complete with nutritious food and plenty of exercise. However, according to a new study from Emory University, the University of California at San Francisco, and Northwestern University, your ethnicity also plays a part in your overall health and your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of many potentially life-threatening diseases, including increased cardiovascular risk, possibly leading to heart attacks and even stroke. According to the study, researchers found that approximately one-third of people with a normal body mass index (BMI) had cardio-metabolic risk factors for heart disease, especially those of South Asian and Hispanic descent. These findings emphasized that members of these populations should get screened for cardiometabolic diseases (heart disease or diabetes risk), even if not overweight or obese.


Cardiometabolic risk is often compared to metabolic syndrome, but it’s considered more inclusive, accounting for additional risk factors that metabolic syndrome does not. Examples of the risk factors looked at in this study are:

  • Obesity (particularly central or abdominal)
  • Hyperglycemia (increase blood sugar)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Insulin resistance (precursor to type 2 diabetes)
  • Dyslipoproteinemia (abnormal concentrations of fats in the blood stream)
  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Physical activity
The research team came to this conclusion by studying 2,622 white Americans, 1,893 African Americans, 1,496 Hispanic Americans, 803 Chinese Americans, and 803 South Asian Americans. The ages of these groups ranged from 44 to 84. The team’s goal was to assess diabetes and heart disease risk (cardiometabolic risk factors) in those with normal body weight and to find out if those rates would differ depending on ethnicity. The final data showed that one-third of the South Asian American and Hispanic American groups, despite having a normal BMI, presented with cardio-metabolic risk factors.

“The key message for clinicians is that using overweight and obesity as the main criteria to screen for high blood pressure, high glucose, high triglycerides, or low HDL cholesterol will likely miss a substantial number of people who have high cardiometabolic risk but are of normal weight,” says first author Unjali Gujral, PhD.

This is no doubt an inconvenience to those affected, as their risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes may still be elevated despite a modified lifestyle. This has prompted the United States Preventative Services Task Force to officially recommend screening at younger ages in ethnic groups. This recommendation extends to those with normal weight and underweight individuals of these groups as well.

Related: Can you reverse heart disease?

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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