M-CHAT - Multicultural Community Health Assessment Trial


Body fat distribution

Abdominal fat stores have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, but little is known about how body fat stores differ between people of different ethnicities. M-CHAT was designed to compare body fat distribution in populations of Aboriginal, Chinese, South Asian and European descent. It also looks at how these differences in body fat distribution affect the risk factor profile for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in each group.


Some research suggests that body fat distribution differs between populations of different ethnic background, with some populations having larger abdominal fat stores than others at a given body size. Some clinical measures, such as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WI), are used to identify overweightness and obesity. However, these measures don’t take into account internal fat stores. Because norms for these measures are based on studies of mainly Caucasian and European populations, it has been suggested that they may not apply to those of non-European origin. 


  • 1. To compare the relationship between visceral and subcutaneous (deep and superficial) adipose tissue (VAT, DSAT, SSAT) and total body fat in men and women of Aboriginal, Chinese and South Asian origin with a similar group of men and women of European origin.
  • 2. To determine how this relationship affects the risk factor profile for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in each of the four groups.


Approximately 100 men and women were recruited from each of the local Aboriginal, Chinese, European and South Asian populations in Vancouver and across a range of BMI categories, from 18.5 to greater than 30. Our total study sample consisted of 822 participants. Participants were assessed for VAT, SSAT and DSAT, total abdominal fat, total body fat, anthropometric measures, including BMI and WC, metabolic risk factors, lifestyle and sociodemographics.


Compared with Europeans at a given range of total body fat, the Chinese and South Asian groups had a relatively greater amount of abdominal adipose tissue, with even larger differences in VAT levels. No significant VAT differences were seen between Aboriginal and European groups of the same body fat level. However, DSAT was significantly higher in both Aboriginal and South Asian populations. BMI also significantly underestimated VAT in all non-European groups.