There are many myths about diabetes, one of which is that you have to be overweight or obese to develop the condition. Consequently, it may surprise some people to learn that one of the populations most at risk for diabetes is also the slimmest American demographic.

In the United States, one in four people have diabetes but don’t know it. Among Asian Americans, this number is one in two. Why is this, when Asian Americans coincidentally enjoy the lowest obesity rates?

Looking slim doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthier.

Unfortunately, Asian-Americans are genetically pre-disposed to being at higher risk for diabetes at lower weights when compared to the general American population. Americans of Asian descent have less muscle and more fat, and this fat tends to be visceral fat, the most dangerous type of fat that is not immediately visible.

For most Americans, a body mass index (BMI) — or weight-to-height ratio of 25 or greater — means you are overweight or obese. A BMI of 25 or over also signals to health-care providers that the patient is at increased risk for developing diabetes, so the health-care provider may order more lab tests to be done to assess the patient’s risk.

However, Asian-Americans can develop diabetes at lower BMIs. In fact, researchers now suggest Asians get tested for diabetes if their BMI is 23 or lower.

Cultural approaches to medicine may affect the quality of care.

Certain cultural practices may also affect the kind of care diabetic Asian-Americans pursue and receive. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been a trusted mode of healing for thousands of years. While some TCM practices, such as tai chi, have stood up to scientific testing and are effective for some, many TCM practices have yet to be proven effective by modern science.

Accessing Healthcare

Healthcare access may be more challenging for recent immigrants, including Asian-Americans. Finding healthcare services that are culturally sensitive and that speak a familiar language can be tough. This may be another reason why Asian Americans may choose TCM over conventional medicine.

Patients interested in TCM should be aware that the FDA does not regulate herbal supplements the same way it does conventional medicine. If you are using supplements because they are more affordable and accessible, consider buying diabetes medicine like Januvia® (sitagliptin phosphate) online through international or Canada pharmacy delivery services. You can then connect with licensed pharmacies located in countries where drug price regulations are tighter.

Lifestyle changes can play a role.

In recent years, globalization, urbanization, and industrialization have dramatically changed the lifestyles of many people in Asia. People are eating more fast food, exercising less, and moving to cities that are more polluted than rural areas. The popularity of American fast food has also spread to Asian countries. Asian-Americans who live in the United States may also adapt to American eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle.

White rice is the cornerstone of many Asian diets.

A traditional Asian diet is usually a healthy one. However, many Asians today prefer white rice over brown or red rice, which is a refined grain. Consuming large amounts of refined grains is associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes. Unfortunately, as anyone who has gone to a Chinese or Indian restaurant would know, rice is a fundamental part of Asian dishes! If you are interested in eating more brown rice but are unfamiliar with the texture, you can mix brown and white rice together and then slowly increase the ratio of brown to white rice.

Furthermore, Asians tend to eat more sodium than the body requires. Sugary drinks and desserts, such as bubble tea in Taiwan or bubble waffles in Hong Kong and Macau are also trendy among Asians and Asian-Americans. Yet, these foods weren’t around some generations ago.

Diabetes is preventable!

If you are Asian-American or belong to another high-risk population for diabetes, don’t panic! Preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes is possible. Here are just a few easy ways suggested by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:

1. Reduce food portion size.
2. Incorporate more movement into everyday life, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Even dancing counts!
3. Use a variety of spices to flavor your cooking rather than salt.
4. Drink plenty of water.
5. Find time for relaxing and managing stress.

You should also, of course, eat more whole grain rice!

Author's Bio: 

Alison Lee is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Canada. She enjoys writing about finance, health and medicine, among other topics.