Advocacy Factsheet — Diabetes

Diabetes is the 5th leading cause of death among Asian Americans living in the United States today. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, the risk of diagnosed diabetes is 18% higher among Asian Americans. Past studies have shown that being Asian American is itself a risk factor for diabetes. But while many doctors, and researchers know these statistics, most people, including Asian Americans, are unaware of the health implications of diabetes.

Although the interplay of both genetics and lifestyle habits allow Asian Americans to be typically more slender, studies have shown that they have a higher percentage of visceral fat surrounding abdominal organs, which is linked to the risk of type 2 diabetes. Other research shows that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are overweight are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, and some groups, including Native Hawaiians, Filipinos, and Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, are twice as likely to have diabetes as white residents of the similar age. The main difference between an Asian immigrant and an Asian American is that Asian immigrants are typically less physically active. With the combination of risk factors of fat and low physical activity, Asian immigrants are more prone to higher risks of diabetes.

As compared to any other Asian-ethinic group, South Asians have the highest diabetes rates. In addition, South Asians are at a much higher risk to develop type 2 diabetes, up to 4 times as greater (South Asian immigrants are 7 times as greater) than other ethnic groups due to a combination of both genetics and environment. Given the higher prevalence rates, there is growing evidence that diabetes is a major issue in the general South Asian and Asian Indian community in the United States.

To curb the increased risk of diabetes for Asian Americans, South Asians, and for anyone for that matter, a healthy lifestyle with healthy diet choices, consciousness of calorie consumption and regular exercise will add to preventative measures. With a diagnosis rate for diabetes to be about 8 percent for Asian Americans as compared to 6 percent for white adults, it is in our best interest to raise awareness about diabetes and to help in advocating ways to improve lifestyles factors that play a role in diabetes.

Types of Diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease in which the body does not produce enough insulin, which is a hormone that helps remove sugar from the blood.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a disorder usually developed later in life in which the insulin that the body produces is inefficient in helping remove sugar from blood. This is also the most common form in Asian Americans.

Areas of Improvement:
ECAASU hopes to create long-term progress among APIA college students—the future of the APIA advocacy and activism surrounding diabetes, through the following areas:

  1. Revealing Diabetes – raising awareness about its prevalence in the Asian American population.
  2. Outreach to the APIA community – advocate lifestyle changes for the better.
  3. Increase access to information – spread facts and information through multiple sources that reach as  many people as possible.
  4. Expand research – Helping areas in medicine target risk factors associated with Asian Americans specifically.

Additional Resources and Sources:
Fox News on Asian Americans Show Higher Diabetes Rates:
National Diabetes Education Program’s (NDEP) Facts About Diabetes:
National Diabetes Education Program’s Press Release:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health’s Asian American/Pacific Islander Profile:
Palo Alto Medical Foundation:
New York University Langone Medical Center’s Diabetes and the South Asian Communities:

Want to Get Involved?
If are you interested in getting involved with AAPI women’s issues, please contact ECAASU’s National Advocacy Chair, Diane Wong at

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