Does obesity explain excess prevalence of diabetes among Mexican Americans? Results of the San Antonio heart study

M. P. Stern, S. P. Gaskill, H. P. Hazuda, L. I. Gardner, S. M. Haffner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


Obesity and Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus are common in the Mexican American population. It is not clear whether this is merely a specific instance of the more general phenomenon of excess Type 2 diabetes and obesity among poor people, or whether Mexican Americans have a discrete genetic susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes. The latter consideration arises because Mexican Americans are of mixed native American and European ancestry and native Americans may have a genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes which Mexican Americans could share. We studied 936 Mexican Americans and 398 Anglo-Americans randomly selected from three socially and culturally distinct neighbourhoods in San Antonio, Texas. Three categories of obesity - lean, average, and obese were defined using the Anglo-American distribution of the sum of the triceps and subscapular skinfold. Mexican Americans were two to four times as likely to fall into the obese category as Anglo-Americans, but within categories, the two ethnic groups were closely matched in terms of sum of skinfolds. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, however, was significantly greater in Mexican Americans than in Anglo-Americans even when the comparisons were made within the three obesity categories. The summary prevalence ratio, controlling for obesity, was 2.54 for men (p=0.004) and 1.70 for women (p=0.036). Thus, lean Mexican Americans are still at greater risk of Type 2 diabetes than equally lean Anglo-Americans. Conversely, although Type 2 diabetes prevalence increases as expected with increasing obesity in both ethnic groups, obese Anglo-Americans are still relatively protected compared with equally obese Mexican Americans. Plasma glucose was significantly higher in Mexican Americans than in Anglo-Americans even after controlling for obesity. These results indicate that, although obesity contributes to Type 2 diabetes in Mexican Americans, it does not by itself explain the entire excess prevalence rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-277
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1983


  • Mexican Americans
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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