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Lord Patel: Socio-cultural factors behind increased risk of obesity and diabetes in South Asian men

Lord Patel: Socio-cultural factors behind increased risk of obesity and diabetes in South Asian men
3 min read

Lord Patel of Bradford highlights the fact that South Asian men are six times more likely to have diabetes than the general population. 

Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in Europe, but in the UK, unhealthy diets have overtaken tobacco as having the greatest impact on health. Fast foods, frequent alcohol use and a sedative lifestyle have led to increasing health problems.  People who are obese have a higher risk of developing chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and psychological issues including depression.

The South Asian community in the UK, comprising of people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent, make up the largest ethnic minority group and are at a higher risk of diabetes than other ethnicities.  In fact, South Asian people make up just 4% of the total UK population, but account for an estimated 8% of all diabetes cases. They can be up to 6 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than the general population and tend to have poorer diabetes management, putting them at a higher risk of serious health complications.  South Asians without diabetes are 3 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, but combined with type 2 diabetes, this risk rises even further for adults with type 2 diabetes aged 20 to 60.  The survival rates in these patients are significantly lower compared to the Caucasian population.

South Asian men particularly have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes compared with their white British counterparts.  But what are the issues that are having an impact on South Asian men and what can be done to address their specific needs?

The key factors cited as having an impact on the increasing levels of obesity amongst South Asian men are poor diet with higher fat and sugars intake and a lack of exercise.  It has been said that South Asian diets have not changed from eating foods which are rich and high in fat, and South Asians are not as active other communities.

While lifestyle is believed to be behind much of the increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in South Asian men, there has been limited evidence.  A new study by the University of Birmingham, however, has found that physical activity and sedentary time are important risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes in obese South Asian men.  The study aimed to objectively measure physical activity and sedentary time and to explore the factors influencing these behaviours in this high-risk population.

The study found that lack of time and family commitments were the main barriers to being more physically active, with group exercise identified as an important facilitator to being more active.  A cultural norm of focusing on promoting education over sport participation during childhood was also identified as an important factor influencing long-term physical activity behaviours.  In addition, work commitments and predominantly sedentary jobs were identified as the main barriers to reducing sedentary time.

The study emphasises the importance of healthcare professionals and researchers considering the socio-cultural factors affecting obese South Asian men in order to ensure that advice and future interventions are tailored to address the needs of this population. 

Failure to do so may mean that the lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle could become the norm amongst a younger generation of South Asian men, and obesity levels and type 2 diabetes will simply continue to rise.

Lord Patel of Bradford is a Labour party peer in the House of Lords.


Slimming World have called on the NHS to urgently tackle a gender bias among health professionals as they appear to be reluctant to refer to weight management services despite positive results. Read their full article here.

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