Over 8,000 children are to be asked to take part in a major study to find out why people from ethnic minorities are more likely to become ill.
Children in London will be asked to take part
People from Britain's black and Asian communities are up to three times more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease compared to white people.
Doctors believe this is linked to high levels of obesity and poor diet.
However, there is growing evidence that ill-health starts in childhood and that social conditions may also be to blame.
Government scientists hope their study will provide a clearer picture and identify ways of improving the health of black and Asian people.
Experts from the Medical Research Council will examine children's lifestyles, diet and other factors as part of the Determinants of Adolescent Social Wellbeing and Health (DASH) study.
They will also investigate whether social deprivation or access to education play an important part.
Pupils from 60 schools in London will be invited to take part. The schools chosen have a high proportion of people from black and other ethnic minority groups.
The children will be aged between 11 and 13 and will be invited to fill out a questionnaire covering things such as home and school life, their health and how they feel about various aspects of their lives. Their height, weight and blood pressure will also be taken.
Our research aims to find out when ill-health begins
Professor Sally Macintyre
Professor Sally Macintyre, director of social and public health sciences at the MRC, said the study could help the government to develop strategies to prevent ill-health in minority groups.
"Little is known about how environmental factors affect the health of children from different ethnic populations although there is evidence that some groups experience disproportionate social and economic disadvantage and ill-health.
"Our research aims to find out when ill-health begins and therefore define the risk factors involved.
"Knowing the causes of ill-health will enable us to develop preventative strategies."
Dame Jocelyn Barrow, a founding member and general secretary of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, backed the research.
"This study is an important step forward for the health of London's ethnic minority children.
"For the first time, we will have a comprehensive picture of the health of 11 to 13 year olds from different backgrounds.
"Keeping healthy is important for them to make the most of their opportunities now and in the future.
"They will benefit from being involved in science, raising awareness about healthy lifestyles and, importantly, from the prevention strategies based on scientific evidence."