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Polynesians: prone to obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus but not hyperinsulinaemia


Professor David Simmons, Department of of Rural Health, University of Melbourne, Goulburn Valley Base Hospital, Victoria 3630, Australia. E-mail:



Aims  To compare the extent of hyperinsulinaemia among New Zealand Europeans and Polynesians (an ethnic group at high risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus).

Methods  A cross-sectional survey from randomly selected households was conducted in inner urban South Auckland.

Subjects  were either European, Maori or Pacific Islands Polynesians aged 40–79 years and were screened for diabetes using a random blood glucose. Those with an elevated result, and 20% randomly selected from those with a normal screening result, were invited to a 75-g glucose tolerance test. WHO criteria (1998) for diabetes were used

Results  In those aged 40–59 years, total prevalence of diabetes was 7.5 (6.2–9.0)% in Europeans but 21.1 (16.6–25.6)% among Maori and 25.0 (19.8–30.1)% among Pacific peoples; obesity (body mass index ≥ 31.0 kg/m2) was present in 26% Europeans, 63% Maori and 69% Pacific peoples. Non-diabetic Polynesians were relatively hyperglycaemic and hyperinsulinaemic. After adjusting for the degree of obesity, Polynesians had similar insulin levels to Europeans.

Conclusions  These findings indicate that Polynesians are not intrinsically insulin resistant as a group, a prerequisite found in most other ethnic groups at high risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus. The high prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in Polynesians could be the result of their high prevalence of obesity.