Ethnic distinctions in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes: a focus on black African-Caribbean populations

Louise M Goff, Meera Ladwa, Olah Hakim, Oluwatoyosi Bello

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a global public health priority, particularly for populations of black African-Caribbean ethnicity, who suffer disproportionately high rates of the disease. While the mechanisms underlying the development of T2D are well documented, there is growing evidence describing distinctions among black African-Caribbean populations. In the present paper, we review the evidence describing the impact of black African-Caribbean ethnicity on T2D pathophysiology. Ethnic differences were first recognised through evidence that metabolic syndrome diagnostic criteria fail to detect T2D risk in black populations due to less central obesity and dyslipidaemia. Subsequently more detailed investigations have recognised other mechanistic differences, particularly lower visceral and hepatic fat accumulation and a distinctly hyperinsulinaemic response to glucose stimulation. While epidemiological studies have reported exaggerated insulin resistance in black populations, more detailed and direct measures of insulin sensitivity have provided evidence that insulin sensitivity is not markedly different to other ethnic groups and does not explain the hyperinsulinaemia that is exhibited. These findings lead us to hypothesise that ectopic fat does not play a pivotal role in driving insulin resistance in black populations. Furthermore, we hypothesise that hyperinsulinaemia is driven by lower rates of hepatic insulin clearance rather than heightened insulin resistance and is a primary defect rather than occurring in compensation for insulin resistance. These hypotheses are being investigated in our ongoing South London Diabetes and Ethnicity Phenotyping study, which will enable a more detailed understanding of ethnic distinctions in the pathophysiology of T2D between men of black African and white European ethnicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-193
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2019


  • African Continental Ancestry Group
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Caribbean Region/ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2/ethnology
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Glucose/metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin/blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Obesity
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology

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