Obesity Outweighed Genetics as Diabetes Risk

Type 2 diabetes prevention focusing on weight loss may beat approaches based on genetics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some people have genes that make them more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Weight loss, however, may be the most effective way to lower diabetes risk, regardless of genetic risk.

While some people may inherit genes that put them at risk for diabetes, certain outside factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity, appear to trigger the condition.

In a recent study, researchers found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was highest among those who were obese, no matter what their genetic profile showed.

The findings of this study suggest that the best approaches to cut diabetes risk concentrate on weight loss rather than genetic risk.

"If you are overweight, take steps to lose weight to cut diabetes risk."

Claudia Langenberg, MD, program leader with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in England, led this analysis weighing how genetic and lifestyle factors relate to the development of diabetes.

For about 12 years, Dr. Langenberg and her colleagues followed 340,234 people in Europe, 12,403 of whom developed diabetes.

These researchers determined each participant’s genetic risk according to a list of 49 known type 2 diabetes genetic variants. They then evaluated how the individual’s genetic profile related to that person’s overall likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Langenberg and team found that genetic risk factors were greatest among younger and leaner people. Still, although their genetic risk was higher, their overall risk for developing diabetes remained low. These researchers pointed out that genetic testing would be impractical because a huge population would have to be screened to identify who should be targeted for diabetes prevention.

The bottom line was that participants who were obese faced the greatest likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, no matter what their genetic risk indicated.

To illustrate, the authors wrote that the rate of diabetes was significantly higher among those who were obese but had the lowest genetic risk (4.22 percent) than among those of normal weight with the highest genetic risk (0.89 percent).

Nick Wareham, PhD, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, told dailyRx News, “In absolute terms, risk is dominated by obesity rather than genetic predisposition. The public health message that this reinforces is that everyone should minimize their risk of diabetes through maintenance of physical activity and a healthy diet and avoidance of [being] overweight.”

This study was published in May in PLOS Medicine.

One contributing author owns stock in the companies GlaxoSmithKline and Incyte, and two others are members of the editorial board of PLOS Medicine.

Review Date: 
May 20, 2014
Last Updated:
May 20, 2014