PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

South Asian Health Check-List

Posted on Oct 25, 2011

Did you know that South Asians are more susceptible to heart attack, stroke and diabetes? Compared to other ethnicities, South Asians are at a heightened risk to develop these chronic illnesses up to a decade earlier. Consider these facts:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that most of the world’s heart patients will be South Asians in the next few years.
  • One-third of diabetics worldwide are Indian.
  • 50 percent of heart attacks in South Asians occur before the age of 55.
  • Nearly one half of Indians have Metabolic Syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease.

South Asians are people who can trace their background to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives or Nepal. They are at heightened risk because of a combination of genetic, cultural and lifestyle factors. These include:

  • Many South Asians carry extra body weight around their stomach.  This is known as abdominal obesity and has been associated with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.  You can find out your South Asian adjusted body mass index and waist to hip circumference on the PAMF South Asian Health website.
  • South Asian foods tend to be high in calories and starch, especially traditional party foods that once were eaten only on special occasions but now are sometimes consumed daily.
  • Many South Asians lifestyles are sedentary. This is particularly true for those who work with computers.
  • South Asians may face unique stressors, including stress from immigration, cultural differences, family and overworking.

If your heritage is South Asian, make sure to visit your doctor for regular blood tests and physical exams. Know your vital numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body size, and recognize that a healthy number for a South Asian person may be different than that for someone from another ethnicity. The target numbers you want to shoot for are:

  • LDL less than 100 for most South Asians (discuss your LDL goal with your doctor)
  • Triglycerides less than 150
  • HDL greater than 40 (men), HDL greater than 50 (women)
  • Total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio of less than 4.0 (total cholesterol divided by your HDL level). This is a much better indicator of risk than your total cholesterol level.
  • Blood pressure should be systolic (top number) less than 130 and diastolic (bottom number) less than 80.
  • A body mass index (BMI) that is no greater than 23.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of less than 0.90 for men and less than 0.85 for women.
  • A fasting blood sugar test result of less than 100 mg/dL.

This blog post contributed by Rani Pallegadda, B.S., M.D., candidate and PAMF Research Institute intern. You can learn more about South Asian wellness at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s South Asian Health website.