This study was designed to compare the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetic vascular disease, and risk factors 1) in Black West Indians who had emigrated to Britain (WIB) with those in Whites in England and 2) among diabetic Jamaicans in Jamaica. Seventy-seven consecutive WIB patients were matched for age, sex, known duration of diabetes, and type of treatment of diabetes with 74 Whites from the same diabetes clinic in England. In Jamaica, a systematic random sample (95 women, 36 men) was studied. There was no difference in age at diagnosis between WIBs and Jamaicans.

Effort chest pain (possible angina) was less frequent in WIBs (9%) or Jamaicans (3%) than in Whites (25%). Cigarette smoking was more common in WIBs than in Whites but still low in Jamaicans. Body mass index was greatest in WIB women (85%), significantly more than in matched White (52%) or Jamaican women (45%); 40% of White men and WIB men were obese, significantly more than Jamaicans (15% obese). Systolic blood pressure was similar, but diastolic blood pressure was significantly greater in WIBs than in matched White subjects. The prevalence of casual hypertension was high (>40%) in all groups, often despite treatment.

Cataracts were significantly more frequent in WIB and Jamaican groups than in Whites. Total background retinopathy after correcting for duration of diabetes did not differ between groups, and there were no significant differences in other complication rates. Levels of HbA1 were lower in Whites than in the other groups. Regression analysis showed that systolic blood pressure was most consistently related to complications, particularly retinopathy, independent of ethnic group and duration.

These results suggest variation in large-vessel rather than small-vessel disease between groups and that high blood pressure and obesity remain the major challenges to management.

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