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1.  Exploring the Developmental Overnutrition Hypothesis Using Parental–Offspring Associations and FTO as an Instrumental Variable 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e33.
The developmental overnutrition hypothesis suggests that greater maternal obesity during pregnancy results in increased offspring adiposity in later life. If true, this would result in the obesity epidemic progressing across generations irrespective of environmental or genetic changes. It is therefore important to robustly test this hypothesis.
Methods and Findings
We explored this hypothesis by comparing the associations of maternal and paternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) with offspring dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)–determined fat mass measured at 9 to 11 y (4,091 parent–offspring trios) and by using maternal FTO genotype, controlling for offspring FTO genotype, as an instrument for maternal adiposity. Both maternal and paternal BMI were positively associated with offspring fat mass, but the maternal association effect size was larger than that in the paternal association in all models: mean difference in offspring sex- and age-standardised fat mass z-score per 1 standard deviation BMI 0.24 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.22 to 0.26) for maternal BMI versus 0.13 (95% CI: 0.11, 0.15) for paternal BMI; p-value for difference in effect < 0.001. The stronger maternal association was robust to sensitivity analyses assuming levels of non-paternity up to 20%. When maternal FTO, controlling for offspring FTO, was used as an instrument for the effect of maternal adiposity, the mean difference in offspring fat mass z-score per 1 standard deviation maternal BMI was −0.08 (95% CI: −0.56 to 0.41), with no strong statistical evidence that this differed from the observational ordinary least squares analyses (p = 0.17).
Neither our parental comparisons nor the use of FTO genotype as an instrumental variable, suggest that greater maternal BMI during offspring development has a marked effect on offspring fat mass at age 9–11 y. Developmental overnutrition related to greater maternal BMI is unlikely to have driven the recent obesity epidemic.
Using parental-offspring associations and theFTO gene as an instrumental variable for maternal adiposity, Debbie Lawlor and colleagues found that greater maternal BMI during offspring development does not appear to have a marked effect on offspring fat mass at age 9-11.
Editors' Summary
Since the 1970s, the proportion of children and adults who are overweight or obese (people who have an unhealthy amount of body fat) has increased sharply in many countries. In the US, 1 in 3 adults is now obese; in the mid-1970s it was only 1 in 7. Similarly, the proportion of overweight children has risen from 1 in 20 to 1 in 5. An adult is considered to be overweight if their body mass index (BMI)—their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared—is between 25 and 30, and obese if it is more than 30. For children, the healthy BMI depends on their age and gender. Compared to people with a healthy weight (a BMI between 18.5 and 25), overweight or obese individuals have an increased lifetime risk of developing diabetes and other adverse health conditions, sometimes becoming ill while they are still young. People become unhealthily fat when they consume food and drink that contains more energy than they need for their daily activities. It should, therefore, be possible to avoid becoming obese by having a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some researchers think that “developmental overnutrition” may have caused the recent increase in waistline measurements. In other words, if a mother is overweight during pregnancy, high sugar and fat levels in her body might permanently affect her growing baby's appetite control and metabolism, and so her offspring might be at risk of becoming obese in later life. If this hypothesis is true, each generation will tend to be fatter than the previous one and it will be very hard to halt the obesity epidemic simply by encouraging people to eat less and exercise more. In this study, the researchers have used two approaches to test the developmental overnutrition hypothesis. First, they have asked whether offspring fat mass is more strongly related to maternal BMI than to paternal BMI; it should be if the hypothesis is true. Second, they have asked whether a genetic indicator of maternal fatness—the “A” variant of the FTO gene—is related to offspring fat mass. A statistical association between maternal FTO genotype (genetic make-up) and offspring fat mass would support the developmental nutrition hypothesis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1991–1992, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) enrolled about 14,000 pregnant women and now examines their offspring at regular intervals. The researchers first used statistical methods to look for associations between the self-reported prepregnancy BMI of the parents of about 4,000 children and the children's fat mass at ages 9–11 years measured using a technique called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. Both maternal and paternal BMI were positively associated with offspring fat mass (that is, fatter parents had fatter children) but the effect of maternal BMI was greater than the effect of paternal BMI. When the researchers examined maternal FTO genotypes and offspring fat mass (after allowing for the offspring's FTO genotype, which would directly affect their fat mass), there was no statistical evidence to suggest that differences in offspring fat mass were related to the maternal FTO genotype.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the findings from first approach provide some support for the development overnutrition hypothesis, the effect of maternal BMI on offspring fat mass is too weak to explain the recent obesity epidemic. Developmental overnutrition could, however, be responsible for the much slower increase in obesity that began a century ago. The findings from the second approach provide no support for the developmental overnutrition hypothesis, although these results have wide error margins and need confirming in a larger study. The researchers also note that the effects of developmental overnutrition on offspring fat mass, although weak at age 9–11, might become more important at later ages. Nevertheless, for now, it seems unlikely that developmental overnutrition has been a major driver of the recent obesity epidemic. Interventions that aim to improve people's diet and to increase their physical activity levels could therefore slow or even halt the epidemic.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
See a related PLoS Medicine Perspective article
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has a page on obesity (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service's health Web site (NHS Direct) provides information about obesity
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about preventing obesity and on childhood obesity
The UK Foods Standards Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Shaping America's Health all provide useful advice about healthy eating for adults and children
The ALSPAC Web site provides information about the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and its results so far
PMCID: PMC2265763  PMID: 18336062
2.  The common FTO variant rs9939609 is not associated with BMI in a longitudinal study on a cohort of Swedish men born 1920-1924 
BMC Medical Genetics  2009;10:131.
Common FTO (fat mass and obesity associated) gene variants have recently been strongly associated with body mass index and obesity in several large studies. Here we set out to examine the association of the FTO variant rs9939609 with BMI in a 32 year follow up study of men born 1920-1924. Moreover, we analyzed the effect of physical activity on the different genotypes.
The FTO rs9936609 was genotyped using an Illumina golden gate assay. BMI was calculated using standard methods and body fat was estimated by measuring skinfold thickness using a Harpenden caliper. Physical activity was assessed using a four question medical questionnaire.
FTO rs9939609 was genotyped in 1153 elderly Swedish men taking part of a population-based cohort study, the ULSAM cohort. The risk of obesity and differences in BMI according to genotype at the ages of 50, 60, 70, 77 and 82 were investigated. We found no increased risk of obesity and no association with BMI at any age with the FTO rs9939609 variant. We found however interaction between physical activity at the age of 50 years and genotype on BMI levels (p = 0.039) and there was a clear trend towards larger BMI differences between the TT and AA carriers as well as between AT and AA carriers in the less physically active subjects.
Here we found that the well established obesity risk allele for a common variant in FTO does not associate with increased BMI levels in a Swedish population of adult men which reached adulthood before the appearance of today's obesogenic enviroment. There is an interaction between physical activity and the effect of the FTO genotype on BMI levels suggesting that lack of physical activity is a requirement for an association of FTO gene variants to obesity.
PMCID: PMC2797506  PMID: 20003232
3.  The Role of Adiposity in Cardiometabolic Traits: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis 
Fall, Tove | Hägg, Sara | Mägi, Reedik | Ploner, Alexander | Fischer, Krista | Horikoshi, Momoko | Sarin, Antti-Pekka | Thorleifsson, Gudmar | Ladenvall, Claes | Kals, Mart | Kuningas, Maris | Draisma, Harmen H. M. | Ried, Janina S. | van Zuydam, Natalie R. | Huikari, Ville | Mangino, Massimo | Sonestedt, Emily | Benyamin, Beben | Nelson, Christopher P. | Rivera, Natalia V. | Kristiansson, Kati | Shen, Huei-yi | Havulinna, Aki S. | Dehghan, Abbas | Donnelly, Louise A. | Kaakinen, Marika | Nuotio, Marja-Liisa | Robertson, Neil | de Bruijn, Renée F. A. G. | Ikram, M. Arfan | Amin, Najaf | Balmforth, Anthony J. | Braund, Peter S. | Doney, Alexander S. F. | Döring, Angela | Elliott, Paul | Esko, Tõnu | Franco, Oscar H. | Gretarsdottir, Solveig | Hartikainen, Anna-Liisa | Heikkilä, Kauko | Herzig, Karl-Heinz | Holm, Hilma | Hottenga, Jouke Jan | Hyppönen, Elina | Illig, Thomas | Isaacs, Aaron | Isomaa, Bo | Karssen, Lennart C. | Kettunen, Johannes | Koenig, Wolfgang | Kuulasmaa, Kari | Laatikainen, Tiina | Laitinen, Jaana | Lindgren, Cecilia | Lyssenko, Valeriya | Läärä, Esa | Rayner, Nigel W. | Männistö, Satu | Pouta, Anneli | Rathmann, Wolfgang | Rivadeneira, Fernando | Ruokonen, Aimo | Savolainen, Markku J. | Sijbrands, Eric J. G. | Small, Kerrin S. | Smit, Jan H. | Steinthorsdottir, Valgerdur | Syvänen, Ann-Christine | Taanila, Anja | Tobin, Martin D. | Uitterlinden, Andre G. | Willems, Sara M. | Willemsen, Gonneke | Witteman, Jacqueline | Perola, Markus | Evans, Alun | Ferrières, Jean | Virtamo, Jarmo | Kee, Frank | Tregouet, David-Alexandre | Arveiler, Dominique | Amouyel, Philippe | Ferrario, Marco M. | Brambilla, Paolo | Hall, Alistair S. | Heath, Andrew C. | Madden, Pamela A. F. | Martin, Nicholas G. | Montgomery, Grant W. | Whitfield, John B. | Jula, Antti | Knekt, Paul | Oostra, Ben | van Duijn, Cornelia M. | Penninx, Brenda W. J. H. | Davey Smith, George | Kaprio, Jaakko | Samani, Nilesh J. | Gieger, Christian | Peters, Annette | Wichmann, H.-Erich | Boomsma, Dorret I. | de Geus, Eco J. C. | Tuomi, TiinaMaija | Power, Chris | Hammond, Christopher J. | Spector, Tim D. | Lind, Lars | Orho-Melander, Marju | Palmer, Colin Neil Alexander | Morris, Andrew D. | Groop, Leif | Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta | Salomaa, Veikko | Vartiainen, Erkki | Hofman, Albert | Ripatti, Samuli | Metspalu, Andres | Thorsteinsdottir, Unnur | Stefansson, Kari | Pedersen, Nancy L. | McCarthy, Mark I. | Ingelsson, Erik | Prokopenko, Inga
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001474.
In this study, Prokopenko and colleagues provide novel evidence for causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure and increased liver enzymes using a Mendelian randomization study design.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The association between adiposity and cardiometabolic traits is well known from epidemiological studies. Whilst the causal relationship is clear for some of these traits, for others it is not. We aimed to determine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits using the Mendelian randomization approach.
Methods and Findings
We used the adiposity-associated variant rs9939609 at the FTO locus as an instrumental variable (IV) for body mass index (BMI) in a Mendelian randomization design. Thirty-six population-based studies of individuals of European descent contributed to the analyses.
Age- and sex-adjusted regression models were fitted to test for association between (i) rs9939609 and BMI (n = 198,502), (ii) rs9939609 and 24 traits, and (iii) BMI and 24 traits. The causal effect of BMI on the outcome measures was quantified by IV estimators. The estimators were compared to the BMI–trait associations derived from the same individuals. In the IV analysis, we demonstrated novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and incident heart failure (hazard ratio, 1.19 per BMI-unit increase; 95% CI, 1.03–1.39) and replicated earlier reports of a causal association with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidemia, and hypertension (odds ratio for IV estimator, 1.1–1.4; all p<0.05). For quantitative traits, our results provide novel evidence for a causal effect of adiposity on the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase and gamma-glutamyl transferase and confirm previous reports of a causal effect of adiposity on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, fasting insulin, 2-h post-load glucose from the oral glucose tolerance test, C-reactive protein, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (all p<0.05). The estimated causal effects were in agreement with traditional observational measures in all instances except for type 2 diabetes, where the causal estimate was larger than the observational estimate (p = 0.001).
We provide novel evidence for a causal relationship between adiposity and heart failure as well as between adiposity and increased liver enzymes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a major cause of illness and death worldwide. In the US, for example, coronary heart disease—a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by fatty deposits slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack—is the leading cause of death, and stroke—a CVD in which the brain's blood supply is interrupted—is the fourth leading cause of death. Globally, both the incidence of CVD (the number of new cases in a population every year) and its prevalence (the proportion of the population with CVD) are increasing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This increasing burden of CVD is occurring in parallel with a global increase in the incidence and prevalence of obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat (adiposity)—and of metabolic diseases—conditions such as diabetes in which metabolism (the processes that the body uses to make energy from food) is disrupted, with resulting high blood sugar and damage to the blood vessels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies—investigations that record the patterns and causes of disease in populations—have reported an association between adiposity (indicated by an increased body mass index [BMI], which is calculated by dividing body weight in kilograms by height in meters squared) and cardiometabolic traits such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure (a condition in which the heart is incapable of pumping sufficient amounts of blood around the body), diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high blood cholesterol (dyslipidemia). However, observational studies cannot prove that adiposity causes any particular cardiometabolic trait because overweight individuals may share other characteristics (confounding factors) that are the real causes of both obesity and the cardiometabolic disease. Moreover, it is possible that having CVD or a metabolic disease causes obesity (reverse causation). For example, individuals with heart failure cannot do much exercise, so heart failure may cause obesity rather than vice versa. Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether adiposity is causally related to various cardiometabolic traits. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. It is known that a genetic variant (rs9939609) within the genome region that encodes the fat-mass- and obesity-associated gene (FTO) is associated with increased BMI. Thus, an investigation of the associations between rs9939609 and cardiometabolic traits can indicate whether obesity is causally related to these traits.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the association between rs9939609 (the “instrumental variable,” or IV) and BMI, between rs9939609 and 24 cardiometabolic traits, and between BMI and the same traits using genetic and health data collected in 36 population-based studies of nearly 200,000 individuals of European descent. They then quantified the strength of the causal association between BMI and the cardiometabolic traits by calculating “IV estimators.” Higher BMI showed a causal relationship with heart failure, metabolic syndrome (a combination of medical disorders that increases the risk of developing CVD), type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, increased blood levels of liver enzymes (an indicator of liver damage; some metabolic disorders involve liver damage), and several other cardiometabolic traits. All the IV estimators were similar to the BMI–cardiovascular trait associations (observational estimates) derived from the same individuals, with the exception of diabetes, where the causal estimate was higher than the observational estimate, probably because the observational estimate is based on a single BMI measurement, whereas the causal estimate considers lifetime changes in BMI.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Like all Mendelian randomization studies, the reliability of the causal associations reported here depends on several assumptions made by the researchers. Nevertheless, these findings provide support for many previously suspected and biologically plausible causal relationships, such as that between adiposity and hypertension. They also provide new insights into the causal effect of obesity on liver enzyme levels and on heart failure. In the latter case, these findings suggest that a one-unit increase in BMI might increase the incidence of heart failure by 17%. In the US, this corresponds to 113,000 additional cases of heart failure for every unit increase in BMI at the population level. Although additional studies are needed to confirm and extend these findings, these results suggest that global efforts to reduce the burden of obesity will likely also reduce the occurrence of CVD and metabolic disorders.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease and tips on keeping the heart healthy, including weight management (in several languages); its website includes personal stories about stroke and heart attacks
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease, stroke, and all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and obesity, including a personal story about losing weight
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease, on vascular disease, on obesity, and on metabolic disorders (in English and Spanish)
The International Association for the Study of Obesity provides maps and information about obesity worldwide
The International Diabetes Federation has a web page that describes types, complications, and risk factors of diabetes
PMCID: PMC3692470  PMID: 23824655
4.  The common rs9939609 variant of the fat mass and obesity-associated gene is associated with obesity risk in children and adolescents of Beijing, China 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:107.
Previous genome-wide association studies for type 2 diabetes susceptibility genes have confirmed that a common variant, rs9939609, in the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene region is associated with body mass index (BMI) in European children and adults. A significant association of the same risk allele has been described in Asian adult populations, but the results are conflicting. In addition, no replication studies have been conducted in children and adolescents of Asian ancestry.
A population-based survey was carried out among 3503 children and adolescents (6-18 years of age) in Beijing, China, including 1229 obese and 2274 non-obese subjects. We investigated the association of rs9939609 with BMI and the risk of obesity. In addition, we tested the association of rs9939609 with weight, height, waist circumference, waist-to-height ratio, fat mass percentage, birth weight, blood pressure and related metabolic traits.
We found significant associations of rs9939609 variant with weight, BMI, BMI standard deviation score (BMI-SDS), waist circumference, waist-to-height ratio, and fat mass percentage in children and adolescents (p for trend = 3.29 × 10-5, 1.39 × 10-6, 3.76 × 10-6, 2.26 × 10-5, 1.94 × 10-5, and 9.75 × 10-5, respectively). No significant associations were detected with height, birth weight, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and related metabolic traits such as total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and fasting plasma glucose (all p > 0.05). Each additional copy of the rs9939609 A allele was associated with a BMI increase of 0.79 [95% Confidence interval (CI) 0.47 to 1.10] kg/m2, equivalent to 0.25 (95%CI 0.14 to 0.35) BMI-SDS units. This rs9939609 variant is significantly associated with the risk of obesity under an additive model [Odds ratio (OR) = 1.29, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.50] after adjusting for age and gender. Moreover, an interaction between the FTO rs9939609 genotype and physical activity (p < 0.001) was detected on BMI levels, the effect of rs9939609-A allele on BMI being (0.95 ± 0.10), (0.77 ± 0.08) and (0.67 ± 0.05) kg/m2, for subjects who performed low, moderate and severe intensity physical activity.
The FTO rs9939609 variant is strongly associated with BMI and the risk of obesity in a population of children and adolescents in Beijing, China.
PMCID: PMC2914647  PMID: 20598163
5.  A Mouse Model for the Metabolic Effects of the Human Fat Mass and Obesity Associated FTO Gene 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(8):e1000599.
Human FTO gene variants are associated with body mass index and type 2 diabetes. Because the obesity-associated SNPs are intronic, it is unclear whether changes in FTO expression or splicing are the cause of obesity or if regulatory elements within intron 1 influence upstream or downstream genes. We tested the idea that FTO itself is involved in obesity. We show that a dominant point mutation in the mouse Fto gene results in reduced fat mass, increased energy expenditure, and unchanged physical activity. Exposure to a high-fat diet enhances lean mass and lowers fat mass relative to control mice. Biochemical studies suggest the mutation occurs in a structurally novel domain and modifies FTO function, possibly by altering its dimerisation state. Gene expression profiling revealed increased expression of some fat and carbohydrate metabolism genes and an improved inflammatory profile in white adipose tissue of mutant mice. These data provide direct functional evidence that FTO is a causal gene underlying obesity. Compared to the reported mouse FTO knockout, our model more accurately reflects the effect of human FTO variants; we observe a heterozygous as well as homozygous phenotype, a smaller difference in weight and adiposity, and our mice do not show perinatal lethality or an age-related reduction in size and length. Our model suggests that a search for human coding mutations in FTO may be informative and that inhibition of FTO activity is a possible target for the treatment of morbid obesity.
Author Summary
Geneticists have identified many gene regions that cause human disease by using multiple genetic markers in large populations to find gene regions associated with disease. However, it is often not clear precisely which gene in any given region causes the disease or how the gene exerts its functional effect. For example, a gene variant in the non-coding region of FTO enhances obesity risk, but it is not clear if this is an effect of the FTO gene itself or another gene located nearby. We therefore tested whether FTO regulates body weight in the mouse. We found that a single change (mutation) in the sequence coding for the mouse FTO protein decreases the functional activity of FTO and causes reduced fat mass and body weight. Food intake and activity were normal, but the mutant mice had a higher metabolic rate. In addition, their fat mass was lower than that of normal mice when both were fed a high-fat diet. Our study provides direct evidence that FTO directly affects fat mass and thus is likely to have a role in human obesity. As reduced FTO function decreases body weight in mice, it is worth exploring if pharmaceutical agents that inhibit FTO activity might help reduce human obesity.
PMCID: PMC2719869  PMID: 19680540
6.  Association of FTO Polymorphisms with Early Age of Obesity in Obese Italian Subjects 
Experimental Diabetes Research  2012;2012:872176.
Obesity is recognized as a major health problem worldwide. Genetic factors play a major role in obesity, and genomewide association studies have provided evidence that several common variants within the fat mass- and obesity-associated (FTO) gene are significantly associated with obesity. Very limited data is available on FTO in the Italian population. Aims of our study are to investigate: (1) the association of FTO gene SNPs rs9939609 and rs9930506 with body mass index (BMI) and obesity-related parameters in a large cohort (n = 752) of Italian obese subjects; (2) the association between the two FTO SNPs and age of onset of obesity. Our results demonstrate a strong association between FTO SNPs rs9939609 (P < 0.043) and rs9930506 (P < 0.029) with BMI in the Italian population. FTO rs9930506 was significantly associated with higher BMI in a G allele dose-dependent manner (BMI + 1.4 kg/m2 per G allele). We also observed that the association with BMI of the two FTO variants varied with age, with the carriers of the risk alleles developing an increase in body weight earlier in life. In conclusion, our study further demonstrates a role of the genetic variability in FTO on BMI in a large Italian population.
PMCID: PMC3290805  PMID: 22454631
7.  The Effect of Elevated Body Mass Index on Ischemic Heart Disease Risk: Causal Estimates from a Mendelian Randomisation Approach 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(5):e1001212.
A Mendelian randomization analysis conducted by Børge G. Nordestgaard and colleagues using data from observational studies supports a causal relationship between body mass index and risk for ischemic heart disease.
Adiposity, assessed as elevated body mass index (BMI), is associated with increased risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD); however, whether this is causal is unknown. We tested the hypothesis that positive observational associations between BMI and IHD are causal.
Methods and Findings
In 75,627 individuals taken from two population-based and one case-control study in Copenhagen, we measured BMI, ascertained 11,056 IHD events, and genotyped FTO(rs9939609), MC4R(rs17782313), and TMEM18(rs6548238). Using genotypes as a combined allele score in instrumental variable analyses, the causal odds ratio (OR) between BMI and IHD was estimated and compared with observational estimates. The allele score-BMI and the allele score-IHD associations used to estimate the causal OR were also calculated individually. In observational analyses the OR for IHD was 1.26 (95% CI 1.19–1.34) for every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI. A one-unit allele score increase associated with a 0.28 kg/m2 (95 CI% 0.20–0.36) increase in BMI and an OR for IHD of 1.03 (95% CI 1.01–1.05) (corresponding to an average 1.68 kg/m2 BMI increase and 18% increase in the odds of IHD for those carrying all six BMI increasing alleles). In instrumental variable analysis using the same allele score the causal IHD OR for a 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI was 1.52 (95% CI 1.12–2.05).
For every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI, observational estimates suggested a 26% increase in odds for IHD while causal estimates suggested a 52% increase. These data add evidence to support a causal link between increased BMI and IHD risk, though the mechanism may ultimately be through intermediate factors like hypertension, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes. This work has important policy implications for public health, given the continuous nature of the BMI-IHD association and the modifiable nature of BMI. This analysis demonstrates the value of observational studies and their ability to provide unbiased results through inclusion of genetic data avoiding confounding, reverse causation, and bias.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Ischemic heart disease (IHD; also known as coronary heart disease) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. In the US alone, IHD kills nearly half a million people every year. With age, fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) build up in the walls of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. The resultant reduction in the heart's blood supply causes shortness of breath, angina (chest pains that are usually relieved by rest), and potentially fatal heart attacks (myocardial infarctions). Risk factors for IHD include smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal amounts of cholesterol and other fat in the blood (dyslipidemia), type 2 diabetes, and being overweight or obese (having excess body fat). Treatments for IHD include lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight) and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. The narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
Prospective observational studies have shown an association between a high body mass index (BMI, a measure of body fat that is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared; a BMI greater than 30 kg/m2 indicates obesity) and an increased risk of IHD. Observational studies, which ask whether people who are exposed to a suspected risk factor develop a specific disease more often than people who are not exposed to the risk factor, cannot prove, however, that changes in BMI/adiposity cause IHD. Obese individuals may share other characteristics that cause both IHD and obesity (confounding) or, rather than obesity causing IHD, IHD may cause obesity (reverse causation). Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to examine whether elevations in BMI across the lifecourse have a causal impact on IHD risk. Three common genetic variants—FTO(rs9939609), MC4R(rs17782313), and TMEM18(rs6548238)—which have the largest single genetic variant associations with BMI were used in this study. Given that gene variants are inherited essentially randomly with respect to conventional confounding factors and are not subject reverse causation, use of these as instruments (or proxy measures) for variation in BMI as a risk factor (as opposed to measuring BMI directly) allows researchers to comment on whether obesity is causally involved in IHD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data from two population-based studies in which adults were physically examined and answered a lifestyle questionnaire before being followed to see how many developed IDH. They also analyzed data from a case-control study on IDH (in a case-control study, people with a disease are matched with similar people without the disease and the occurrence of risk factors in the patients and controls is compared). Overall, the researchers measured the BMI of 75,627 white individuals, among whom 11,056 already had IDH or developed it, and determined which of the BMI-increasing genetic variants each participant carried. On the basis of the observational data, every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI increased the odds of IDH by 26% (an odds ratio of 1.26). Using a score derived from the combination of the three genetic variants, the researchers confirmed an association between each BMI increasing allele and both BMI (as expected) and IHD (0.28 kg/m2 and an odds ratio for IHD of 1.03, respectively). On average, compared to people carrying no BMI-increasing gene variants, people carrying six BMI-increasing gene variants had a 1.68 kg/m2 increase in BMI and an 18% increase in IHD risk. To extend this and to essentially reassess the original, observational, relationship between BMI and IHD risk, an “instrumental variable analysis” was used to examine the causal effect of a lifetime change in BMI on the risk of IDH. In this, it was found that for every 4 kg/m2 increase in BMI increased the odds of IDH by 52%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support a causal link between increased BMI and IDH risk, although it may be that BMI affects IDH through intermediate factors such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes. The findings also show that observational studies into the impact of elevated BMI on IHD risk were consistent with this, but also that the inclusion of genetic data increases the value of observational studies by making it possible to avoid issues such as confounding and reverse causation. Finally, these findings and those of recent, observational studies have important implications for public-health policy because they show that the association between BMI (which is modifiable by lifestyle changes) and IHD is continuous. That is, any increase in BMI increases the risk of IHD; there is no threshold below which a BMI increase has no effect on IDH risk. Thus, public-health policies that aim to reduce BMI by even moderate levels could substantially reduce the occurrence of IDH in populations.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The American Heart Association provides information about IHD and tips on keeping the heart healthy, including weight management; it also provides personal stories about IHD
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about IHD, including information on prevention and personal stories about IHD
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute also provides information on IHD (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on IHD (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3341326  PMID: 22563304
8.  Genetic Markers of Adult Obesity Risk Are Associated with Greater Early Infancy Weight Gain and Growth 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000284.
Ken Ong and colleagues genotyped children from the ALSPAC birth cohort and showed an association between greater early infancy gains in weight and length and genetic markers for adult obesity risk.
Genome-wide studies have identified several common genetic variants that are robustly associated with adult obesity risk. Exploration of these genotype associations in children may provide insights into the timing of weight changes leading to adult obesity.
Methods and Findings
Children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort were genotyped for ten genetic variants previously associated with adult BMI. Eight variants that showed individual associations with childhood BMI (in/near: FTO, MC4R, TMEM18, GNPDA2, KCTD15, NEGR1, BDNF, and ETV5) were used to derive an “obesity-risk-allele score” comprising the total number of risk alleles (range: 2–15 alleles) in each child with complete genotype data (n = 7,146). Repeated measurements of weight, length/height, and body mass index from birth to age 11 years were expressed as standard deviation scores (SDS). Early infancy was defined as birth to age 6 weeks, and early infancy failure to thrive was defined as weight gain between below the 5th centile, adjusted for birth weight. The obesity-risk-allele score showed little association with birth weight (regression coefficient: 0.01 SDS per allele; 95% CI 0.00–0.02), but had an apparently much larger positive effect on early infancy weight gain (0.119 SDS/allele/year; 0.023–0.216) than on subsequent childhood weight gain (0.004 SDS/allele/year; 0.004–0.005). The obesity-risk-allele score was also positively associated with early infancy length gain (0.158 SDS/allele/year; 0.032–0.284) and with reduced risk of early infancy failure to thrive (odds ratio  = 0.92 per allele; 0.86–0.98; p = 0.009).
The use of robust genetic markers identified greater early infancy gains in weight and length as being on the pathway to adult obesity risk in a contemporary birth cohort.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The proportion of overweight and obese children is increasing across the globe. In the US, the Surgeon General estimates that, compared with 1980, twice as many children and three times the number of adolescents are now overweight. Worldwide, 22 million children under five years old are considered by the World Health Organization to be overweight.
Being overweight or obese in childhood is associated with poor physical and mental health. In addition, childhood obesity is considered a major risk factor for adult obesity, which is itself a major risk factor for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions.
The most commonly used measure of whether an adult is a healthy weight is body mass index (BMI), defined as weight in kilograms/(height in metres)2. However, adult categories of obese (>30) and overweight (>25) BMI are not directly applicable to children, whose BMI naturally varies as they grow. BMI can be used to screen children for being overweight and or obese but a diagnosis requires further information.
Why Was This Study Done?
As the numbers of obese and overweight children increase, a corresponding rise in future numbers of overweight and obese adults is also expected. This in turn is expected to lead to an increasing incidence of poor health. As a result, there is great interest among health professionals in possible pathways between childhood and adult obesity. It has been proposed that certain periods in childhood may be critical for the development of obesity.
In the last few years, ten genetic variants have been found to be more common in overweight or obese adults. Eight of these have also been linked to childhood BMI and/or obesity. The authors wanted to identify the timing of childhood weight changes that may be associated with adult obesity. Knowledge of obesity risk genetic variants gave them an opportunity to do so now, without following a set of children to adulthood.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors analysed data gathered from a subset of 7,146 singleton white European children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) study, which is investigating associations between genetics, lifestyle, and health outcomes for a group of children in Bristol whose due date of birth fell between April 1991 and December 1992. They used knowledge of the children's genetic makeup to find associations between an obesity risk allele score—a measure of how many of the obesity risk genetic variants a child possessed—and the children's weight, height, BMI, levels of body fat (at nine years old), and rate of weight gain, up to age 11 years.
They found that, at birth, children with a higher obesity risk allele score were not any heavier, but in the immediate postnatal period they were less likely to be in the bottom 5% of the population for weight gain (adjusted for birthweight), often termed “failure to thrive.” At six weeks of age, children with a higher obesity risk allele score tended to be longer and heavier, even allowing for weight at birth.
After six weeks of age, the obesity risk allele score was not associated with any further increase in length/height, but it was associated with a more rapid weight gain between birth and age 11 years. BMI is derived from height and weight measurements, and the association between the obesity risk allele score and BMI was weak between birth and age three-and-a-half years, but after that age the association with BMI increased rapidly. By age nine, children with a higher obesity risk allele score tended to be heavier and taller, with more fat on their bodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The combined obesity allele risk score is associated with higher rates of weight gain and adult obesity, and so the authors conclude that weight gain and growth even in the first few weeks after birth may be the beginning of a pathway of greater adult obesity risk.
A study that tracks a population over time can find associations but it cannot show cause and effect. In addition, only a relatively small proportion (1.7%) of the variation in BMI at nine years of age is explained by the obesity risk allele score.
The authors' method of finding associations between childhood events and adult outcomes via genetic markers of risk of disease as an adult has a significant advantage: the authors did not have to follow the children themselves to adulthood, so their findings are more likely to be relevant to current populations. Despite this, this research does not yield advice for parents how to reduce their children's obesity risk. It does suggest that “failure to thrive” in the first six weeks of life is not simply due to a lack of provision of food by the baby's caregiver but that genetic factors also contribute to early weight gain and growth.
The study looked at the combined obesity risk allele score and the authors did not attempt to identify which individual alleles have greater or weaker associations with weight gain and overweight or obesity. This would require further research based on far larger numbers of babies and children. The findings may also not be relevant to children in other types of setting because of the effects of different nutrition and lifestyles.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Further information is available on the ALSPAC study
The UK National Health Service and other partners provide guidance on establishing a healthy lifestyle for children and families in their Change4Life programme
The International Obesity Taskforce is a global network of expertise and the advocacy arm of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. It works with the World Health Organization, other NGOs, and stakeholders and provides information on overweight and obesity
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US provide guidance and tips on maintaining a healthy weight, including BMI calculators in both metric and Imperial measurements for both adults and children. They also provide BMI growth charts for boys and girls showing how healthy ranges vary for each sex at with age
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health provides growth charts for weight and length/height from birth to age 4 years that are based on WHO 2006 growth standards and have been adapted for use in the UK
The CDC Web site provides information on overweight and obesity in adults and children, including definitions, causes, and data
The CDC also provide information on the role of genes in causing obesity.
The World Health Organization publishes a fact sheet on obesity, overweight and weight management, including links to childhood overweight and obesity
Wikipedia includes an article on childhood obesity (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC2876048  PMID: 20520848
9.  Age- and Sex-Dependent Association between FTO rs9939609 and Obesity-Related Traits in Chinese Children and Adolescents 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97545.
The associations between common variants in the fat mass- and obesity-associated (FTO) gene and obesity-related traits may be age-dependent and may differ by sex. The present study aimed to assess the association of FTO rs9939609 with body mass index (BMI) and the risk of obesity from childhood to adolescence, and to determine the age at which the association becomes evident.
Totally 757 obese and 2,746 non-obese Chinese children aged 6–18 years were genotyped for FTO rs9939609. Of these, a young sub-cohort (n = 777) aged 6–11 years was reexamined 6 years later. Obesity was defined using the sex- and age-specific BMI cut-offs recommended by the International Obesity Task Force.
The associations of FTO rs9939609 with BMI and obesity did not appear until children reached 12–14 years. The variant was associated with an increased BMI in boys (β = 1.50, P = 0.004) and girls (β = 0.97, P = 0.018), respectively. Thereafter, the magnitude of association increased in girls at ages 15–18 years (β = 2.02, P<0.001), but not boys (β = 0.10, P>0.05). Age was found to interact with the variant on BMI (P<0.001) and obesity (P = 0.042) only in girls. In the sub-cohort, the associations of FTO rs9939609 with BMI (β = 1.07, P = 0.008) and obesity (OR = 2.09, 95% CI: 1.12, 3.91) were only observed 6 years later (ages 12–18 years) in girls, even after adjusting for baseline BMI.
The association between FTO rs9939609 and obesity-related traits may change from childhood to adolescence in Chinese individuals, and the association may start as early as age 12 years, especially in girls.
PMCID: PMC4020831  PMID: 24827155
10.  FTO gene variation and measures of body mass in an African population 
BMC Medical Genetics  2009;10:21.
Variation in the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene has been reproducibly associated with body mass index (BMI) and obesity in populations of White European origin. Data from Asians and African-Americans is less conclusive.
We assessed the effect of 16 FTO polymorphisms on body mass in a large population of predominantly lean Gambians (Nmax 2208) participating in a long-term surveillance program providing contemporary and early-life anthropometric measurements.
Sixteen FTO tagSNPs screened here, including several associated with BMI in Europeans, were not associated with birth weight (BWT), early weight gain in 1–2 year olds, BMI in adults (≥ 18 y), or weight-for-height (WFH) z-score across all ages. No association was seen between genotype and WFH z-score or other measures of body mass. The confidence limits indicate that the effect size for WFH z-score never exceeded 0.17 units per allele copy for any SNP (excluding the three SNPs with allele < 15%). with much the lowest allele frequency. The confidence interval of the effect size for rs9939609 did not overlap that reported previously in Europeans.
To our knowledge this is the first study of FTO gene variation in a well-characterised African population. Our results suggest that FTO gene variation does not influence measures of body mass in Gambians living a traditional lifestyle, or has a smaller effect than that detected in Europeans. These findings are not directly comparable to results from previous studies in African-Americans due to differences in study design and analysis. It is also possible that any effect of FTO genotype on body mass is of limited relevance in a lean population where little excess food is available, compared to similar ethnic populations where food supply is plentiful.
PMCID: PMC2666669  PMID: 19265514
11.  Adult Onset Global Loss of the Fto Gene Alters Body Composition and Metabolism in the Mouse 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(1):e1003166.
The strongest BMI–associated GWAS locus in humans is the FTO gene. Rodent studies demonstrate a role for FTO in energy homeostasis and body composition. The phenotypes observed in loss of expression studies are complex with perinatal lethality, stunted growth from weaning, and significant alterations in body composition. Thus understanding how and where Fto regulates food intake, energy expenditure, and body composition is a challenge. To address this we generated a series of mice with distinct temporal and spatial loss of Fto expression. Global germline loss of Fto resulted in high perinatal lethality and a reduction in body length, fat mass, and lean mass. When ratio corrected for lean mass, mice had a significant increase in energy expenditure, but more appropriate multiple linear regression normalisation showed no difference in energy expenditure. Global deletion of Fto after the in utero and perinatal period, at 6 weeks of age, removed the high lethality of germline loss. However, there was a reduction in weight by 9 weeks, primarily as loss of lean mass. Over the subsequent 10 weeks, weight converged, driven by an increase in fat mass. There was a switch to a lower RER with no overall change in food intake or energy expenditure. To test if the phenotype can be explained by loss of Fto in the mediobasal hypothalamus, we sterotactically injected adeno-associated viral vectors encoding Cre recombinase to cause regional deletion. We observed a small reduction in food intake and weight gain with no effect on energy expenditure or body composition. Thus, although hypothalamic Fto can impact feeding, the effect of loss of Fto on body composition is brought about by its actions at sites elsewhere. Our data suggest that Fto may have a critical role in the control of lean mass, independent of its effect on food intake.
Author Summary
The fat mass and obesity (FTO) gene has one of the strongest links with body mass index (BMI) in the human population. One in six people have the “risk” alteration and weigh 3 kg more than those with the unaltered gene, but it is not understood how this gene influences BMI and obesity. We set out to understand how and where in the body FTO affects food intake, energy expenditure, and body composition using a mouse model that can be manipulated to lack FTO at particular times and/or places. Removing FTO everywhere from conception had a dramatic effect on body composition and resulted in stunted growth and some lethality. Removing FTO everywhere but only in adult animals resulted in better viability and normal growth but, surprisingly, reduced lean mass and increased fat mass with a change in the type of metabolic fuel being used. Finally, we removed FTO from the hypothalamus of adult animals, an important brain region involved in energy metabolism. These animals showed a mild reduction in food intake and weight gain. Our experiments show that FTO has an important role in body composition and that other brain areas outside of the hypothalamus are also important in determining its effects.
PMCID: PMC3536712  PMID: 23300482
12.  Meal Frequencies Modify the Effect of Common Genetic Variants on Body Mass Index in Adolescents of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73802.
Recent studies suggest that meal frequencies influence the risk of obesity in children and adolescents. It has also been shown that multiple genetic loci predispose to obesity already in youth. However, it is unknown whether meal frequencies could modulate the association between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the risk of obesity. We examined the effect of two meal patterns on weekdays –5 meals including breakfast (regular) and ≤4 meals with or without breakfast (meal skipping) – on the genetic susceptibility to increased body mass index (BMI) in Finnish adolescents. Eight variants representing 8 early-life obesity-susceptibility loci, including FTO and MC4R, were genotyped in 2215 boys and 2449 girls aged 16 years from the population-based Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986. A genetic risk score (GRS) was calculated for each individual by summing the number of BMI-increasing alleles across the 8 loci. Weight and height were measured and dietary data were collected using self-administered questionnaires. Among meal skippers, the difference in BMI between high-GRS and low-GRS (<8 and ≥8 BMI-increasing alleles) groups was 0.90 (95% CI 0.63,1.17) kg/m2, whereas in regular eaters, this difference was 0.32 (95% CI 0.06,0.57) kg/m2 (pinteraction  = 0.003). The effect of each MC4R rs17782313 risk allele on BMI in meal skippers (0.47 [95% CI 0.22,0.73] kg/m2) was nearly three-fold compared with regular eaters (0.18 [95% CI -0.06,0.41] kg/m2) (pinteraction  = 0.016). Further, the per-allele effect of the FTO rs1421085 was 0.24 (95% CI 0.05,0.42) kg/m2 in regular eaters and 0.46 (95% CI 0.27,0.66) kg/m2 in meal skippers but the interaction between FTO genotype and meal frequencies on BMI was significant only in boys (pinteraction  = 0.015). In summary, the regular five-meal pattern attenuated the increasing effect of common SNPs on BMI in adolescents. Considering the epidemic of obesity in youth, the promotion of regular eating may have substantial public health implications.
PMCID: PMC3769374  PMID: 24040077
13.  EMR-linked GWAS study: investigation of variation landscape of loci for body mass index in children 
Frontiers in Genetics  2013;4:268.
Common variations at the loci harboring the fat mass and obesity gene (FTO), MC4R, and TMEM18 are consistently reported as being associated with obesity and body mass index (BMI) especially in adult population. In order to confirm this effect in pediatric population five European ancestry cohorts from pediatric eMERGE-II network (CCHMC-BCH) were evaluated.
Method: Data on 5049 samples of European ancestry were obtained from the Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) of two large academic centers in five different genotyped cohorts. For all available samples, gender, age, height, and weight were collected and BMI was calculated. To account for age and sex differences in BMI, BMI z-scores were generated using 2000 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts. A Genome-wide association study (GWAS) was performed with BMI z-score. After removing missing data and outliers based on principal components (PC) analyses, 2860 samples were used for the GWAS study. The association between each single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and BMI was tested using linear regression adjusting for age, gender, and PC by cohort. The effects of SNPs were modeled assuming additive, recessive, and dominant effects of the minor allele. Meta-analysis was conducted using a weighted z-score approach.
Results: The mean age of subjects was 9.8 years (range 2–19). The proportion of male subjects was 56%. In these cohorts, 14% of samples had a BMI ≥95 and 28 ≥ 85%. Meta analyses produced a signal at 16q12 genomic region with the best result of p = 1.43 × 10-7 [p(rec) = 7.34 × 10-8) for the SNP rs8050136 at the first intron of FTO gene (z = 5.26) and with no heterogeneity between cohorts (p = 0.77). Under a recessive model, another published SNP at this locus, rs1421085, generates the best result [z = 5.782, p(rec) = 8.21 × 10-9]. Imputation in this region using dense 1000-Genome and Hapmap CEU samples revealed 71 SNPs with p < 10-6, all at the first intron of FTO locus. When hetero-geneity was permitted between cohorts, signals were also obtained in other previously identified loci, including MC4R (rs12964056, p = 6.87 × 10-7, z = -4.98), cholecystokinin CCK (rs8192472, p = 1.33 × 10-6, z = -4.85), Interleukin 15 (rs2099884, p = 1.27 × 10-5, z = 4.34), low density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1B [LRP1B (rs7583748, p = 0.00013, z = -3.81)] and near transmembrane protein 18 (TMEM18) (rs7561317, p = 0.001, z = -3.17). We also detected a novel locus at chromosome 3 at COL6A5 [best SNP = rs1542829, minor allele frequency (MAF) of 5% p = 4.35 × 10-9, z = 5.89].
Conclusion: An EMR linked cohort study demonstrates that the BMI-Z measurements can be successfully extracted and linked to genomic data with meaningful confirmatory results. We verified the high prevalence of childhood rate of overweight and obesity in our cohort (28%). In addition, our data indicate that genetic variants in the first intron of FTO, a known adult genetic risk factor for BMI, are also robustly associated with BMI in pediatric population.
PMCID: PMC3847941  PMID: 24348519
BMI; obesity; polymorphism; GWAS
14.  The contribution of FTO and UCP-1 SNPs to extreme obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular risk in Brazilian individuals 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:101.
Obesity has become a common human disorder associated with significant morbidity and mortality and adverse effects on quality of life. Sequence variants in two candidate genes, FTO and UCP-1, have been reported to be overrepresented in obese Caucasian population. The association of these genes polymorphisms with the obesity phenotype in a multiethnic group such as the Brazilian population has not been previously reported.
To assess the putative contribution of both FTO and UCP-1 to body mass index (BMI) and cardiovascular risk we genotyped SNPs rs9939609 (FTO) and rs6536991, rs22705565 and rs12502572 (UCP-1) from 126 morbidly obese subjects (BMI 42.9 ± 5.6 kg/m2, mean ± SE) and 113 normal-weight ethnically matched controls (BMI 22.6 ± 3.5 kg/m2, mean ± SE). Waist circumference, blood pressure, glucose and serum lipids were also measured. Each sample was also genotyped for 40 biallelic short insertion/deletion polymorphism (indels) for ethnic assignment and to estimate the proportion of European, African and Amerindian biogeographical ancestry in the Brazilian population.
Cases did not differ from controls in the proportions of genomic ancestry. The FTO SNP rs9939609 and UCP-1 SNP rs6536991 were significantly associated with BMI (p= 0.04 and p<0.0001 respectively). An allele dose dependent tendency was observed for BMI for rs6536991 sample of controls. No other significant associations between any SNP and hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes were noted after correction for BMI and no significant synergistic effect between FTO and UCP-1 SNPs with obesity were noted. There was not an association between rs9939609 (FTO) and rs6536991 (UCP-1) in with maximum weight loss after 1 year in 94 obese patients who underwent bariatric surgery.
Our data are consistent with FTO rs9939609 and UCP-1 rs6536991 common variants as contributors to obesity in the Brazilian population.
PMCID: PMC3526455  PMID: 23134754
FTO; UCP-1; Morbid obesity; Brazilian population; Multiethnic sample
15.  Appetite regulation genes are associated with body mass index in black South African adolescents: a genetic association study 
BMJ Open  2012;2(3):e000873.
Obesity is a complex trait with both environmental and genetic contributors. Genome-wide association studies have identified several variants that are robustly associated with obesity and body mass index (BMI), many of which are found within genes involved in appetite regulation. Currently, genetic association data for obesity are lacking in Africans—a single genome-wide association study and a few replication studies have been published in West Africa, but none have been performed in a South African population.
To assess the association of candidate loci with BMI in black South Africans. The authors focused on single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the FTO, LEP, LEPR, MC4R, NPY2R and POMC genes.
A genetic association study.
990 randomly selected individuals from the larger Birth to Twenty cohort (a longitudinal birth cohort study of health and development in Africans).
The authors genotyped 44 SNPs within the six candidate genes that included known BMI-associated SNPs and tagSNPs based on linkage disequilibrium in an African population for FTO, LEP and NPY2R. To assess population substructure, the authors included 18 ancestry informative markers. Weight, height, sex, sex-specific pubertal stage and exact age collected during adolescence (13 years) were used to identify loci that predispose to obesity early in life.
Sex, sex-specific pubertal stage and exact age together explain 14.3% of the variation in log(BMI) at age 13. After adjustment for these factors, four SNPs were individually significantly associated with BMI: FTO rs17817449 (p=0.022), LEP rs10954174 (p=0.0004), LEP rs6966536 (p=0.012) and MC4R rs17782313 (p=0.045). Together the four SNPs account for 2.1% of the variation in log(BMI). Each risk allele was associated with an estimated average increase of 2.5% in BMI.
The study highlighted SNPs in FTO and MC4R as potential genetic markers of obesity risk in South Africans. The association with two SNPs in the 3′ untranslated region of the LEP gene is novel.
Article summary
Article focus
This is a replication study aiming to reproduce BMI association findings from European cohorts in a South African population.
This study focused on genes linked to appetite control that were previously reported to show association with BMI or obesity and included FTO, LEP, LEPR, MC4R, NPY2R and POMC.
Adolescent data were used to facilitate the identification of genetic loci that predispose to obesity early in life, as it is known that overweight/obese children have an elevated risk of becoming obese adults.
Key messages
We found four SNPs were individually significantly associated with BMI: FTO rs17817449 (p=0.022), LEP rs10954174 (p=0.0004), LEP rs6966536 (p=0.012) and MC4R rs17782313 (p=0.045).
Together the four SNPs account for 2.1% of the variation in log(BMI).
We also demonstrated that an accumulation of risk alleles is linked to a significant increase in BMI—individuals with seven risk alleles had an 11.0% increase in median BMI compared with those with two risk alleles.
Strengths and limitations of this study
This study provides the first preliminary evidence of the role of genetic variants in obesity risk in an adolescent black South African population.
This study was only moderately powered to detect association with BMI, and not all genes were exhaustively investigated.
TagSNP selection would have been enhanced if South African data were available for this approach.
PMCID: PMC3358621  PMID: 22614171
16.  FTO at rs9939609, Food Responsiveness, Emotional Control and Symptoms of ADHD in Preschool Children 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49131.
The FTO minor allele at rs9939609 has been associated with body mass index (BMI: weight (kg)/height (m)2) in children from 5 years onwards, food intake, and eating behaviour. The high expression of FTO in the brain suggests that this gene may also be associated with behavioural phenotypes, such as impulsivity and control. We examined the effect of the FTO minor allele (A) at rs9939609 on eating behaviour, impulsivity and control in young children, thus before the BMI effect becomes apparent. This study was embedded in the Generation R Study, a population-based cohort from fetal life onwards. 1,718 children of European descent were genotyped for FTO at rs9939609. With logistic regression assuming an additive genetic model, we examined the association between the FTO minor allele and eating behaviour, impulsivity and control in preschool children. There was no relation between FTO at rs9939609 and child BMI at this age. The A allele at rs9939609 was associated with increased food responsiveness (OR 1.21, p = 0.03). Also, children with the A allele were less likely to have symptoms of ADHD (OR 0.74, p = 0.01) and showed more emotional control (OR 0.64, p = 0.01) compared to children without the A allele. Our findings suggest that before the association between FTO and BMI becomes apparent, the FTO minor allele at rs9939609 leads to increased food responsiveness, a decreased risk for symptoms of ADHD and better emotional control. Future studies are needed to investigate whether these findings represent one single mechanism or reflect pleiotropic effects of FTO.
PMCID: PMC3498333  PMID: 23155456
17.  Statistical and Biological Gene-Lifestyle Interactions of MC4R and FTO with Diet and Physical Activity on Obesity: New Effects on Alcohol Consumption 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52344.
Fat mass and obesity (FTO) and melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) and are relevant genes associated with obesity. This could be through food intake, but results are contradictory. Modulation by diet or other lifestyle factors is also not well understood.
To investigate whether MC4R and FTO associations with body-weight are modulated by diet and physical activity (PA), and to study their association with alcohol and food intake.
Adherence to Mediterranean diet (AdMedDiet) and physical activity (PA) were assessed by validated questionnaires in 7,052 high cardiovascular risk subjects. MC4R rs17782313 and FTO rs9939609 were determined. Independent and joint associations (aggregate genetic score) as well as statistical and biological gene-lifestyle interactions were analyzed.
FTO rs9939609 was associated with higher body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and obesity (P<0.05 for all). A similar, but not significant trend was found for MC4R rs17782313. Their additive effects (aggregate score) were significant and we observed a 7% per-allele increase of being obese (OR = 1.07; 95%CI 1.01–1.13). We found relevant statistical interactions (P<0.05) with PA. So, in active individuals, the associations with higher BMI, WC or obesity were not detected. A biological (non-statistical) interaction between AdMedDiet and rs9939609 and the aggregate score was found. Greater AdMedDiet in individuals carrying 4 or 3-risk alleles counterbalanced their genetic predisposition, exhibiting similar BMI (P = 0.502) than individuals with no risk alleles and lower AdMedDiet. They also had lower BMI (P = 0.021) than their counterparts with low AdMedDiet. We did not find any consistent association with energy or macronutrients, but found a novel association between these polymorphisms and lower alcohol consumption in variant-allele carriers (B+/−SE: −0.57+/−0.16 g/d per-score-allele; P = 0.001).
Statistical and biological interactions with PA and diet modulate the effects of FTO and MC4R polymorphisms on obesity. The novel association with alcohol consumption seems independent of their effects on BMI.
PMCID: PMC3528751  PMID: 23284998
18.  Regulation and Function of FTO mRNA Expression in Human Skeletal Muscle and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue 
Diabetes  2009;58(10):2402-2408.
Common variants in FTO (the fat mass– and obesity-associated gene) associate with obesity and type 2 diabetes. The regulation and biological function of FTO mRNA expression in target tissue is unknown. We investigated the genetic and nongenetic regulation of FTO mRNA in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and their influence on in vivo glucose and fat metabolism.
The FTO rs9939609 polymorphism was genotyped in two twin cohorts: 1) 298 elderly twins aged 62–83 years with glucose tolerance ranging from normal to type 2 diabetes and 2) 196 young (25–32 years) and elderly (58–66 years) nondiabetic twins examined by a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp including indirect calorimetry. FTO mRNA expression was determined in subcutaneous adipose tissue (n = 226) and skeletal muscle biopsies (n = 158).
Heritability of FTO expression in both tissues was low, and FTO expression was not influenced by FTO rs9939609 genotype. FTO mRNA expression in skeletal muscle was regulated by age and sex, whereas age and BMI were predictors of adipose tissue FTO mRNA expression. FTO mRNA expression in adipose tissue was associated with an atherogenic lipid profile. In skeletal muscle, FTO mRNA expression was negatively associated to fat and positively to glucose oxidation rates as well as positively correlated with expression of genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation including PGC1α.
The heritability of FTO expression in adipose tissue and skeletal muscle is low and not influenced by obesity-associated FTO genotype. The age-dependent decline in FTO expression is associated with peripheral defects of glucose and fat metabolism.
PMCID: PMC2750213  PMID: 19587359
19.  Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity Is Differentially Associated with Variation in FTO in Whites and African-Americans in the ARIC Study 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10521.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) gene are associated with body mass index (BMI) in populations of European descent. The FTO rs9939609 variant, first detected in a genome-wide association study of diabetes, conferred an increased disease risk that was abolished after adjustment for BMI, suggesting that the association may be due to variation in adiposity. The relationship between diabetes, four previously identified FTO polymorphisms that span a 19.6-kb genomic region, and obesity was therefore evaluated in the biracial population-based Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study with the goal of further refining the association by comparing results between the two ethnic groups. The prevalence of diabetes and obesity (BMI ≥30 kg/m2) was established at baseline, and diabetes was determined by either self-report, a fasting glucose level ≥126 mg/dL, or non-fasting glucose ≥200 mg/dL. There were 1,004 diabetes cases and 10,038 non-cases in whites, and 670 cases and 2,780 non-cases in African-Americans. Differences in mean BMI were assessed by a general linear model, and multivariable logistic regression was used to predict the risk of diabetes and obesity. For white participants, the FTO rs9939609 A allele was associated with an increased risk of diabetes (odds ratio (OR)  = 1.19, p<0.001) and obesity (OR = 1.22, p<0.001) under an additive genetic model that was similar for all of the SNPs analyzed. In African-Americans, only the rs1421085 C allele was a determinant of obesity risk (OR = 1.17, p = 0.05), but was found to be protective against diabetes (OR = 0.79, p = 0.03). Adjustment for BMI did not eliminate any of the observed associations with diabetes. Significant statistical interaction between race and the FTO variants suggests that the effect on diabetes susceptibility may be context dependent.
PMCID: PMC2873943  PMID: 20502638
20.  The association of variants in the FTO gene with longitudinal body mass index profiles in non-Hispanic white children and adolescents 
To investigate possible age-related changes in associations between polymorphisms in the fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene and higher body mass index (BMI).
Design and Subjects
Multilevel mixed regression models were used to examine associations between four FTO variants and longitudinal BMI profiles in non-Hispanic white and African American children and adolescents 8 - 17 years of age from two different longitudinal cohort studies, the Bogalusa Heart Study (BHS) and Project HeartBeat! (PHB). In the BHS, there were 1551 examinations of 478 African Americans and 3210 examinations of 1081 non-Hispanic whites; in PHB, there were 971 examinations of 131 African Americans and 4458 examinations of 505 non-Hispanic whites.
In African Americans, no significant FTO associations with BMI were found. In non-Hispanic whites, linkage disequilibrium among all four variants made haplotype analysis superfluous, so we focused on the single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), rs9939609. In longitudinal multilevel models, the A/A genotype of rs9939609 was associated with higher BMI in non-Hispanic whites in both cohorts at all ages. A significant age-by-genotype interaction found only in the BHS cohort predicted that in those with the A/A genotype, BMI would be approximately 0.7 kg/m2 higher at age 8, and approximately 1.6 kg/m2 higher at age 17 than in those with A/T or T/T genotypes. The design of Project HeartBeat! limited follow-up of any single individual to four years, and may have reduced the ability to detect any age-by-genotype interaction in this cohort.
The A/A genotype of rs9939609 in the FTO gene is associated with higher longitudinal BMI profiles in non-Hispanic whites from two different cohorts. The association may change with age, with the A/A genotype being associated with a larger BMI difference in late adolescence than in childhood, though this was observed only in the Bogalusa Heart Study cohort and requires verification.
PMCID: PMC3495000  PMID: 21986706
FTO; body mass index; children; adolescents; longitudinal study
21.  Analysis of FTO gene variants with obesity and glucose homeostasis measures in the multiethnic Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study cohort 
Previous studies have replicated the association of variants within FTO (fat mass- and obesity-associated) intron 1 with obesity and adiposity quantitative traits in populations of European ancestry. Non-European populations, however, have not been so intensively studied. The goal of this investigation was to examine the association of FTO single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), prominent in the literature in a multiethnic sample of non-Hispanic White American (n = 458), Hispanic American (n = 373) and African American (n = 288) subjects from the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study (IRAS). This cohort provides the unique ability to evaluate how variation within FTO influences measures of adiposity and glucose homeostasis in three different ethnicities, which were ascertained and examined using a common protocol.
A total of 26 FTO SNPs were genotyped, including those consistently associated in the literature (rs9939609, rs8050136, rs1121980, rs1421085, rs17817449 and rs3751812), and tested for association with adiposity and glucose homeostasis traits.
For the adiposity phenotypes, these and other SNPs were associated with body mass index (BMI) in both non-Hispanic Whites (P-values ranging from 0.015 to 0.048) and Hispanic Americans (P-values ranging from 7.1 × 10−6 to 0.027). In Hispanic Americans, four other SNPs (rs8047395, rs10852521, rs8057044 and rs8044769) still showed evidence of association after multiple comparisons adjustment (P-values ranging from 5.0 × 10−5 to 5.2 × 10−4). The historically associated BMI SNPs were not associated in the African Americans, but rs1108102 was associated with BMI (P-value of 5.4 × 10−4) after accounting for multiple comparisons. For glucose homeostasis traits, associations were seen with acute insulin response in non-Hispanic Whites and African Americans. However, all associations with glucose homeostasis measures were no longer significant after adjusting for multiple comparisons.
These results replicate the association of FTO intron 1 variants with BMI in non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanic Americans but show little evidence of association in African Americans, suggesting that the effect of FTO variants on adiposity phenotypes shows genetic heterogeneity dependent on ethnicity.
PMCID: PMC4068260  PMID: 21102551
FTO; association; adiposity traits; multiethnic sample; glucose homeostasis traits
22.  Life course variations in the associations between FTO and MC4R gene variants and body size 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;19(3):545-552.
The timing of associations between common genetic variants for weight or body mass index (BMI) across the life course may provide insights into the aetiology of obesity. We genotyped variants in FTO (rs9939609) and near MC4R (rs17782313) in 1240 men and 1239 women born in 1946 and participating in the MRC National Survey of Health and Development. Birth weight was recorded and height and weight were measured or self-reported repeatedly at 11 time-points between ages 2 and 53 years. Hierarchical mixed models were used to test whether genetic associations with weight or BMI standard deviation scores (SDS) changed with age during childhood and adolescence (2–20 years) or adulthood (20–53 years). The association between FTO rs9939609 and BMI SDS strengthened during childhood and adolescence (rate of change: 0.007 SDS/A-allele/year; 95% CI: 0.003–0.010, P < 0.001), reached a peak strength at age 20 years (0.13 SDS/A-allele, 0.08–0.19), and then weakened during adulthood (−0.003 SDS/A-allele/year, −0.005 to −0.001, P = 0.001). MC4R rs17782313 showed stronger associations with weight than BMI; its association with weight strengthened during childhood and adolescence (0.005 SDS/C-allele/year; 0.001–0.008, P = 0.006), peaked at age 20 years (0.13 SDS/C-allele, 0.07–0.18), and weakened during adulthood (−0.002 SDS/C-allele/year, −0.004 to 0.000, P = 0.05). In conclusion, genetic variants in FTO and MC4R showed similar biphasic changes in their associations with BMI and weight, respectively, strengthening during childhood up to age 20 years and then weakening with increasing adult age. Studies of the aetiology of obesity spanning different age groups may identify age-specific determinants of weight gain.
PMCID: PMC2798720  PMID: 19880856
23.  Influences of the Common FTO rs9939609 Variant on Inflammatory Markers Throughout a Broad Range of Body Mass Index 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e15958.
A recent study reported that the fatness associated A-allele of FTO rs9939609 increased plasma high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) levels independent of fatness. We aimed to investigate if this gene variant had fatness-independent effects on plasma hs-CRP and 10 additional circulating obesity-related adipokines throughout a broad range of body mass index (BMI) among Danish men.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In a population of 362,200 young men, examined for military service between 1943 and 1977, two groups were identified: 1) a random 1% sample and 2) all obese men (BMI = 31.0 kg/m2, all of whom were above the 99th percentile of this population). At an average age of 49 years (range: 39 through 65 years), 551 men, hereof 231 of the obese, were re-examined, including genotyping and measurement of the fasting circulating inflammatory markers hs-CRP, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, IL-18, mip1α, mip1β, sTNFα-R1, TGF-β, TNF-α and leptin. Men with known disease were excluded from the examination. All the inflammatory markers were log-transformed to approximate a normal distribution. Genotype-phenotype relationships were studied using linear regression analyses with the inflammatory markers as the response variable. Significant positive associations between hs-CRP, leptin and a broad range of BMI were observed, but the associations did not significantly differ across FTO rs9939609 genotype. There were no significant associations between the other inflammatory markers, FTO rs9939609 genotype or BMI, respectively.
No fatness-independent effects of the FTO rs9939609 A-allele on a series of inflammatory markers were observed in this cohort of healthy middle-aged men representing a broad range of fatness.
PMCID: PMC3016333  PMID: 21246032
24.  FTO variant rs9939609 is associated with body mass index and waist circumference, but not with energy intake or physical activity in European- and African-American youth 
BMC Medical Genetics  2010;11:57.
Genome-wide association studies found common variants in the fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene associated with adiposity in Caucasians and Asians but the association was not confirmed in African populations. Association of FTO variants with insulin resistance and energy intake showed inconsistent results in previous studies. This study aimed to assess the influence of FTO variant rs9939609 on adiposity, insulin resistance, energy intake and physical activity in European - (EA) and African-American (AA) youth.
We conducted a cross-sectional study in EA and AA youths. One thousand, nine hundred and seventy-eight youths (48.2% EAs, 47.1% male, mean age 16.5 years) had measures of anthropometry. Percent body fat (%BF) was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (SAAT) by magnetic resonance imaging. Energy intake and physical activity were based on self report from up to 7 24-hour recalls. Physical activity was also measured by accelerometry.
FTO rs9939609 was significantly associated with body mass index (BMI) (P = 0.01), weight (P = 0.03) and waist circumference (P = 0.04), with per-allele effects of 0.4 kg/m2, 1.3 kg and 0.8 cm, respectively. No significant association was found between rs9939609 and %BF, VAT, SAAT or insulin resistance (P > 0.05), or between rs9939609 and energy intake or vigorous physical activity (P > 0.05). No significant interactions of rs9939609 with ethnicity, gender, energy intake or physical activity were observed (P > 0.05).
The FTO variant rs9939609 is modestly associated with BMI and waist circumference, but not with energy intake or physical activity. Moreover, these effects were similar for EAs and AAs. Improved understanding of the effect of the FTO variant will offer new insights into the etiology of excess adiposity.
PMCID: PMC2864242  PMID: 20377915
25.  Associations of the FTO rs9939609 and the MC4R rs17782313 polymorphisms with type 2 diabetes are modulated by diet, being higher when adherence to the Mediterranean diet pattern is low 
Although the Fat Mass and Obesity (FTO) and Melanocortin-4 Receptor (MC4R) genes have been consistently associated with obesity risk, the association between the obesity-risk alleles with type 2 diabetes is still controversial. In some recent meta-analyses in which significant results have been reported, the associations disappeared after adjustment for body mass index (BMI). However gene-diet interactions with dietary patterns have not been investigated. Our main aim was to analyze whether these associations are modulated by the level of adherence to the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet).
Case-control study in 7,052 high cardiovascular risk subjects (3,430 type 2 diabetes cases and 3,622 non-diabetic subjects) with no differences in BMI. Diet was assessed by validated questionnaires. FTO-rs9939609 and MC4R-rs17782313 were determined. An aggregate genetic score was calculated to test additive effects. Gene-diet interactions were analyzed.
Neither of the polymorphisms was associated with type 2 diabetes in the whole population. However, we found consistent gene-diet interactions with adherence to the MedDiet both for the FTO-rs9939609 (P-interaction=0.039), the MC4R-rs17782313 (P-interaction=0.009) and for their aggregate score (P-interaction=0.006). When adherence to the MedDiet was low, carriers of the variant alleles had higher type 2 diabetes risk (OR=1.21, 95%CI: 1.03-1.40; P=0.019 for FTO-rs9939609 and OR=1.17, 95%CI:1.01-1.36; P=0.035 for MC4R-rs17782313) than wild-type subjects. However, when adherence to the MedDiet was high, these associations disappeared (OR=0.97, 95%CI: 0.85-1.16; P=0.673 for FTO-rs9939609 and OR=0.89, 95%CI:0.78-1.02; P=0.097 for MC4R-rs17782313). These gene-diet interactions remained significant even after adjustment for BMI. As MedDiet is rich in folate, we also specifically examined folate intake and detected statistically significant interaction effects on fasting plasma glucose concentrations in non-diabetic subjects. However these findings should be interpreted with caution because folate intake may simply reflect a healthy dietary pattern.
These novel results suggest that the association of the FTO-rs9939609 and the MC4R-rs17782313 polymorphisms with type 2 diabetes depends on diet and that a high adherence to the MedDiet counteracts the genetic predisposition.
PMCID: PMC3495759  PMID: 23130628
Nutrigenetics; Mediterranean diet; Diabetes; FTO; MC4R; Gene-diet interactions

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