South Asian health issues

If you're from a south Asian background, you're more likely than people from other communities in the UK to have certain health conditions.

This is also the case for some mixed-race people of south Asian descent. The term ‘south Asian’ in these articles refers to anyone of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Sri Lankan origin. While each of these communities has its own unique culture and background, they all share some common health issues.

Diabetes and heart disease

People from south Asian communities can be up to six times more likely to have diabetes than the general population. Pakistani women are especially at risk. The risk of dying early from coronary heart disease is twice as high among South Asian groups compared with the general population. Experts aren’t sure why this is the case, but it may be linked to diet, lifestyle and different ways of storing fat in the body.

New healthy weight advice was issued in July 2013 by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to south Asian adults.

  • If you have a body mass index (BMI) score of 23 or more, you have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 
  • If your BMI is 27.5 or more, you have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Calculate your BMI and discover if you are a healthy weight for your height.

There are things you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. The articles below explain how:

Children of South Asian origin in the UK are more likely to have type 2 diabetes than their Caucasian peers. Weight gain caused by eating traditional foods high in sugar and fat, alongside Western "fast foods", is thought to be a contributing factor, according to Diabetes UK.

Get advice on managing your child's weight.

Smoking and chewing tobacco

Rates of smoking are generally lower in Indian communities in England than in the general population. However, Bangladeshi and Pakistani men have much higher rates of smoking than in the general population. Habits such as smoking bidi or shisha, and chewing paan or gutkha – both of which are forms of "smokeless tobacco" – can be harmful, too.

Find out about the risks of paan, bidi and shisha, and getting support to quit.

Eye health and kidney health

The eye condition acute glaucoma and chronic kidney disease can affect anybody, but people from south Asian communities have a higher risk. Having diabetes increases the chances of developing kidney disease, and research suggests diabetes can also raise the risk of glaucoma.

Learn more about living with kidney disease and glaucoma.

Blood and organ donation

There are currently around 7,000 people in the UK waiting for an organ transplant that could save or dramatically improve their lives. This figure changes constantly as people join and leave the transplant waiting list. Most are waiting for a kidney, heart, lung or liver transplant. One donor can give life to several people. Giving blood can also help to save lives.

Organ and blood donation among south Asian, African and African Caribbean communities is relatively low. These groups represent 27% of those on the waiting list but only 5% of organ donors.

This means that there is a shortage of donor organs and blood matching the tissue or blood type of members of these ethnic groups. Comedian Gina Yashere explains why it's important for members of ethnic minorities to donate blood and organs.

To find out more about what different religions – including Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu and Judaism – say about blood and organ donation, visit the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) website.

Travelling abroad

Typhoid

There are around 500 cases of typhoid in the UK each year. Most cases in the UK are in people who have travelled to Pakistan, Bangladesh, India or parts of Africa.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has produced leaflets about preventing typhoid, available in several languages:

Malaria

In the UK, 1,500 to 2,000 people are diagnosed with malaria each year having been infected abroad. Over half of these cases are among people visiting friends and family in their country of origin, particularly in Africa and south Asia.

You can protect yourself against malaria if you're travelling to a country where malaria is a risk. See the HPA's leaflets about preventing malaria, available in several languages:

Weight loss tips

People talk about how they have successfully lost weight and an NHS dietitian offers useful tips.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 20/01/2014

Next review due: 20/01/2016

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