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Weight Gain Riskier for South Asians

Gaining weight may be particularly dangerous for people of South Asian descent, a new study suggests.

The results show we don't all pack on fat in the same way. South Asians — people who originate from the Indian subcontinent — are more likely to carry extra fat around their internal organs, such as their liver, than Caucasians, Canadian researchers said.

This type of fat, known as visceral fat or belly fat, is thought to be more dangerous to health than subcutaneous fat , or fat just under the skin. Previous work has linked belly fat with the development of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and insulin resistance, which can develop into cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes.

The results may explain why South Asians have previously been found to be at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

Because of the way their bodies carry fat, South Asians may experience more health problems than Caucasians of similar body weights, said study researcher Dr. Arya Sharma, director of the Canadian Obesity Network. Doctors should screen people of South Asian heritage for heart disease and diabetes at lower body mass indices (BMIs) than Caucasians, Sharma said.

The researchers examined about 100 people of South Asian descent (defined as those with parents and grandparents who originated in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh) and Caucasians (whose ancestors originated in Europe).

The researchers used body scans to determine the distribution of the participants' body fat.

After adjusting for age, gender and BMI, the researchers found South Asians had less fat under their skin and more fat around organs than Caucasians did. This may be because South Asians' bodies are structured in a way that means they have less space to store fat below their skin than Caucasians, said Dr. Sonia Anand, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

"Their excess fat, therefore, overflows to ectopic compartments, in the abdomen and liver where it may affect function," Anand said.

The study was published Thursday (July 28) in the journal PLoS ONE. It was sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Pass it on: People of South Asian descent are more likely to carry fat around their internal organs than are Caucasians.

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Live Science Staff
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