British Asian Health Study

The United Kingdom is home to one of the largest populations of people of South Asian origin outside the Indian sub-continent itself. Large numbers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and East Africa migrated to the UK from the 1950s to the 1980s and there now approximately 3 million ‘British Asians’ living in the UK (1st, 2nd and 3rd generation.)

There are known to be important differences in the incidence of common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain cancers between British Asians and British Whites. For example, South Asians have been found to be more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease but less likely to develop certain cancers (e.g. bowel cancer). It is thought that part of this may be accounted for by differences in diet and lifestyle as the incidence of cancer in South Asians is increasing as they adopt a diet and lifestyle increasingly similar to the white population.

However, very little research has been undertaken to investigate the causes of these differences, especially with regard to cancer. Large cohort studies, with hundreds of thousands of participants are the most reliable way of finding associations between people’s lifestyles and development of these common diseases but until now there have been no such large prospective studies in the South Asian population in the U.K.

Therefore, INDOX plans to conduct a cohort study with approximately 250,000 1st and 2nd generation British Asians representative of the different South Asian ethnic groups. The primary aim of this cohort study will be to investigate the effects of diet and lifestyle on the risk of common diseases (particularly cancer but also ischaemic heart disease, diabetes and stroke). The study will also allow us to compare differences in the incidence of these conditions between first and second generation migrants and the possible causes for these differences.

The UK is ideally suited to conduct such a study due to the NHS system (which allows all participants to be followed up and the incidence of disease to be accurately recorded) and indeed it is unlikely that such a study could be done anywhere else in the world.

This study will be conducted in partnership with the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University which has one of the largest concentrations of epidemiological expertise worldwide and experience of conducting large prospective studies such as the Million Woman study, EPIC and UK Biobank.

The findings of this study will have important public health implications not just for British Asians but even more significantly for the 1.5 billion South Asians in the sub-continent itself where people’s lifestyles are becoming increasingly ‘Westernized’. The results of this study could therefore be instrumental in reducing the risk of South Asian populations developing these diseases in the future and preventing needless suffering and deaths.