The darkening in skin is a global phenomenon, with China, India, Indonesia and now, the Philippines, among the top five hotspots.
In the Philippines the darker skinned people are more likely to be overweight, obese, and diabetic, which in turn leads to a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes.
The report says it’s a trend that is largely driven by diet and lifestyle factors, and the authors point to “a widespread cultural tendency to reduce the appearance of dark skin”.
“While it is true that dark skin is an essential part of Indian culture, it is also a natural condition,” said Dr Nita Sharma, professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and one of the report’s co-authors.
“This has led to an obsession with the ideal skin color, and many people believe that this ideal is the skin color that will be most desirable for beauty, marriage, and other important relationships.”
“However, we believe that it is the dark skin that is actually most critical for our health and well-being.”
Sharma said the findings, which have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Philadelphia next month.
In India, the report says the trend is most pronounced among the young, as they are more prone to be affected by diabetes.
“The majority of Indian adolescents are overweight, and they are at greater risk for developing type 2 Diabetes,” the report said.
“Indian children are more susceptible to developing obesity and obesity-related conditions in the later years of their lives, as well as being at higher risk for diabetes and hypertension.
This has been shown to be a risk factor for type 2 DM.”
Dr Arun Shriram, director of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research’s Department of Nutrition Research and Education, said the study is the first to examine the impact of diet and physical activity on skin darkening.
“It has been known for some time that diet and activity have an impact on the appearance and function of the skin, and we are very excited to have been able to link this to an underlying biological factor,” he said.
In the Philippines a report published last year found that obesity and diabetes have been linked to a different subset of skin, with a higher percentage of darker skin among the elderly, those with type 2 hypertension and people with a family history of diabetes.
Dr Shrirame said the latest study suggests the link between diet and skin darkenedness might be even stronger in the Philippines.
“If we are able to develop a genetic marker to help us identify individuals who have a genetic predisposition for these two conditions, we can start to identify those individuals who may benefit from the treatment of these diseases,” he explained.
“However the gene-based approach has limitations, which we have been working on for some years.”