A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that risk factors for heart disease among Chinese Americans are often overlooked, as the standard generally utilized to determine a healthy weight is commonly not adjusted for Asian populations.

The study, “Obesity and Modifiable Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among Chinese Americans in New York City, 2009—2012” examined the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and risk factors for cardiovascular disease among New York City’s Chinese Americans.

Simona Kwon, lead investigator of the study and director of New York University’s Center for the Study of Asian Health, reported that Asian Americans are often left out of health research analysis, “Because it looks like we’re not experiencing health disparities in cardiovascular disease.”

Kwan reports that there is a well established link between high rates of diabetes and South Asian communities, yet there is a ‘model minority’ of East Asians having less risk of cardiovascular disease. While the World Health Organization defines a ‘normal’ BMI as between 18.5 to 24.9, ‘overweight’ as 25 to 29.9, and ‘obese’ as 30 or higher, people of Asian descent tend to have higher body fat percentages—so BMI measurements must be adjusted.

Measured against standard BMI values, the authors found a low prevalence of Chinese Americans who were overweight and obese, yet when they used the BMI cut points adjusted or the Asian population, the numbers went up. Researchers state that Chinese Americans are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease risk factors that are preventable and treatable, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Because physicians decide whether or not to screen patients for diabetes based on BMI, authors of the article suggest that patients of Asian descent should use lower BMI cut points; traditional cutoffs would miss Chinese Americans at risk of diabetes.

“There’s a need to disaggregate data on Asian Americans and focus on subgroups because when you look at Asian Americans as a whole, a lot of differences get masked,” says Kwan.

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