Weight loss study seeks men of different ethnicities

By Leo Horgan
  • Wellington

Researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington (UOW) are seeking 20 men from different ethnic backgrounds for a study to find out how well people of different body shapes and different ethnicities respond to a weight loss diet.

The study could have major implications for how New Zealand doctors manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in people from different ethnic backgrounds, say the researchers.

The participants will follow a low calorie diet prescribed by their team until they have lost 10 percent of their body weight.

Rates of both pre-diabetes and diabetes are rapidly increasing, and New Zealand Māori, Pacific and South Asian individuals have significantly higher rates of Type 2 diabetes than New Zealand Europeans.

Study leader, Dr Patricia Whitfield, says despite this, the differing rates for these different ethnic groups are surprising because New Zealanders from each of these ethnic groups tend to have very different body shape and composition.

“This has made us question whether the underlying causes of diabetes are different in each group – perhaps they process sugar in different ways? This could have implications for how we manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in these individuals.  We want to discover why there is a difference in the outcomes for these groups,” she says.

The researchers are asking for men aged between 18 and 65 years, and in the Wellington/Wairarapa region, five from each of the following ethnic groups: New Zealand Māori; Pacific; South Asian (Indian, Sri Lankan etc.) and New Zealand European.  The study will take place in the University of Otago’s facilities at the Centre for Translational Physiology in Wellington.

“This provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ where we can measure energy expenditure (calories burned) in our participants using the new state-of the art calorimetry suite; measure body composition on a scan and measure glucose and body fat processing, all in one location. Currently this is the only facility in New Zealand with all of these capabilities in one area,” says Dr Whitfield.

“We will follow the participants up closely with phone calls and visits during the diet to monitor their progress.  At the beginning and end of the diet, they will need to come to the UOW Wellington campus (Medical School) for a variety of tests looking at how they process sugar.

“As an endocrinologist, a large proportion of my job involves seeing individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, often by the time I am seeing them in the hospital, they have developed complications like problems with their vision or kidneys."

Diabetes is a significant issue in New Zealand – seven per cent of New Zealand adults have Type 2 diabetes mellitus and one in four have pre-diabetes (a condition that can progress to type 2 diabetes).

“If we can find ways to prevent people developing Type 2 diabetes in the first place, this will have hugely significant benefits for the health of New Zealanders.  We hope the research will help us see whether our diet advice is appropriate for all New Zealanders, or whether we need to think of other ways to reduce diabetes risk," says Dr Whitfield.