Obesity in the community: a comparison of the differential distribution of body fat in four distinct populations

Being overweight or obese, especially around the stomach, dramatically increases one’s risk for health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. This is of great concern as the prevalence of obesity in Canada has steadily increased during the past 15 years. However, most of the research on obesity is based on populations with European origins; very little is known about the effects of being overweight in Aboriginal, Chinese and South Asian populations yet the rates of obesity in these populations are also increasing. Preliminary evidence suggests that at the same weight and stomach size, people of Aboriginal, Chinese or South Asian descent have a higher amount of body fat and greater risk for diabetes and heart disease compared to men and women of European descent. Therefore, using clinical targets for obesity developed from European populations may result in inappropriate screening for prevention of these diseases. Dr. Scott Lear’s research involves recruiting 200 people from each of the Aboriginal, Chinese, South Asian and European communities to study the relationship between cultural background, body fat distribution and risk for diabetes and heart disease. Each participant will undergo a scan for stomach fat, overall body fat and risk factors. By improving understanding about the implications of excess body fat in these under-studied populations, the research could lead to guidelines for identifying people at risk for chronic disease, and contribute to prevention strategies targeted to these populations.