The UK’s largest ethnic minority groups, people of South Asian and African Caribbean origin, experience markedly different rates of heart disease and diabetes to people of European descent.

The Wellcome Trust and BHF-funded Southall And Brent REvisited (SABRE) study was set up to investigate this link. In total, people of 5000 European, South Asian and African Caribbean origin living in North-West London, were recruited to participate in the study in 1988. After 20 years the majority of participants received a review of their medical records and hospital episode statistics, enabling researchers to establish key diabetes, heart or stroke-related events.

The study showed that people of South Asian origin experienced more heart disease than people of European origin, and people of African Caribbean origin experience less than both ethnic groups. The South Asian and African Caribbean ethnic groups had greater stroke rates than people of European origin, possibly explained by their much higher prevalence of diabetes.  In fact, people of South Asian and African Caribbean origin had three times more diabetes than people of European origin, which SABRE indicated may be due to ethnic differences in body composition. Additionally, people from these groups develop diabetes at a lower BMI than Europeans, a finding that informed NICE guidelines on acceptable BMI cut-off points for each ethnic group. Findings will continue to contribute to tackling health inequalities in the UK.

Access to data in study participants’ medical records has been essential for our research. It has allowed us to look at patterns in health over a period of almost 30 years and identify factors that appear to increase an individual’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Ultimately, this will help us to improve the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of these diseases, particularly for people at higher risk. Researcher perspective