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1.  Genome-wide Linkage Screen for Stature and Body-mass Index in 3.032 Families - Evidence for Sex- and Population-specific Genetic Effects 
Stature (adult body height), and body mass index (BMI) have a strong genetic component explaining observed variation in human populations, however, identifying those genetic components has been extremely challenging. It seems obvious that sample size is a critical determinant for successful identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) that underlie the genetic architecture of these polygenic traits. The inherent shared environment and known genetic relationships in family studies provide clear advantages for gene mapping over studies utilizing unrelated individuals. To these ends, we combined the genotype and phenotype data from four previously performed family-based genome-wide screens resulting in a sample of 9.371 individuals from 3.032 African-American and European-American families and performed variance-components linkage analyses for stature and BMI. To our knowledge, this study represents the single largest family-based genome-wide linkage scan published for stature and BMI to date. This large study sample allowed us to pursue population-and sex-specific analyses as well. For stature we found evidence for linkage in previously reported loci on 11q23, 12q12, 15q25 and 18q23 as well as 15q26 and 19q13 which have not been linked to stature previously. For BMI we found evidence for two loci: one on 7q35 and another on 11q22 both of which have been previously linked to BMI in multiple populations. Our results show both the benefit of 1) combining data to maximize the sample size and 2) minimizing heterogeneity by analyzing subgroups where within-group variation can be reduced and suggest that the latter may be a more successful approach in genetic mapping.
PMCID: PMC2628452  PMID: 18781184
Body Height; Body Mass Index; Linkage mapping; Quantitative Trait Loci
2.  Combined Genome Scans for Body Stature in 6,602 European Twins: Evidence for Common Caucasian Loci 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(6):e97.
Twin cohorts provide a unique advantage for investigations of the role of genetics and environment in the etiology of variation in common complex traits by reducing the variance due to environment, age, and cohort differences. The GenomEUtwin ( consortium consists of eight twin cohorts (Australian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, and United Kingdom) with the total resource of hundreds of thousands of twin pairs. We performed quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of one of the most heritable human complex traits, adult stature (body height) using genome-wide scans performed for 3,817 families (8,450 individuals) derived from twin cohorts from Australia, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, and United Kingdom with an approximate ten-centimorgan microsatellite marker map. The marker maps for different studies differed and they were combined and related to the sequence positions using software developed by us, which is publicly available ( Variance component linkage analysis was performed with age, sex, and country of origin as covariates. The covariate adjusted heritability was 81% for stature in the pooled dataset. We found evidence for a major QTL for human stature on 8q21.3 (multipoint logarithm of the odds 3.28), and suggestive evidence for loci on Chromosomes X, 7, and 20. Some evidence of sex heterogeneity was found, however, no obvious female-specific QTLs emerged. Several cohorts contributed to the identified loci, suggesting an evolutionarily old genetic variant having effects on stature in European-based populations. To facilitate the genetic studies of stature we have also set up a website that lists all stature genome scans published and their most significant loci (
Author Summary
Twin cohorts provide a unique advantage for research of the role of genetics and environment behind common complex traits by reducing the variance due to environment, age, and cohort differences. The GenomEUtwin consortium consists of eight twin cohorts with the total resource of hundreds of thousands of twin pairs ( We performed quantitative family-based genetic linkage analysis for one of the most heritable human complex traits, adult stature (body height), using genome-wide scans derived from twin cohorts from Australia, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, and United Kingdom. Age, sex, and country were adjusted for in the data analyses. Human stature was found to be very heritable across all the cohorts and in the combined dataset. We found evidence for a shared genetic locus accounting for human stature on Chromosome 8, and suggestive evidence for loci on Chromosomes X, 7, and 20. Since twins from several countries contributed to the identified loci, an evolutionarily old genetic variant must influence stature in European-based populations. To facilitate the research in the field we have also set up a website that lists all stature genome scans published and their most significant loci (
PMCID: PMC1892350  PMID: 17559308
3.  A male-specific quantitative trait locus on 1p21 controlling human stature 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2005;42(12):932-939.
Background: Many genome-wide scans aimed at complex traits have been statistically underpowered due to small sample size. Combining data from several genome-wide screens with comparable quantitative phenotype data should improve statistical power for the localisation of genomic regions contributing to these traits.
Objective: To perform a genome-wide screen for loci affecting adult stature by combined analysis of four previously performed genome-wide scans.
Methods: We developed a web based computer tool, Cartographer, for combining genetic marker maps which positions genetic markers accurately using the July 2003 release of the human genome sequence and the deCODE genetic map. Using Cartographer, we combined the primary genotype data from four genome-wide scans and performed variance components (VC) linkage analyses for human stature on the pooled dataset of 1417 individuals from 277 families and performed VC analyses for males and females separately.
Results: We found significant linkage to stature on 1p21 (multipoint LOD score 4.25) and suggestive linkages on 9p24 and 18q21 (multipoint LOD scores 2.57 and 2.39, respectively) in males-only analyses. We also found suggestive linkage to 4q35 and 22q13 (multipoint LOD scores 2.18 and 2.85, respectively) when we analysed both females and males and to 13q12 (multipoint LOD score 2.66) in females-only analyses.
Conclusions: We strengthened the evidence for linkage to previously reported quantitative trait loci (QTL) for stature and also found significant evidence of a novel male-specific QTL on 1p21. Further investigation of several interesting candidate genes in this region will help towards characterisation of this first sex-specific locus affecting human stature.
PMCID: PMC1735962  PMID: 15827092
4.  Genome-wide association study identifies two novel loci containing FLNB and SBF2 genes underlying stature variation 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;18(9):1661-1669.
Human stature, as an important physical index in clinical practice and a usual covariate in gene mapping of complex disorders, is a highly heritable complex trait. To identify specific genes underlying stature, a genome-wide association study was performed in 1000 unrelated homogeneous Caucasian subjects using Affymetrix 500K arrays. A group of seven contiguous markers in the region of SBF2 gene (Set-binding factor 2) are associated with stature, significantly so at the genome-wide level after false discovery rate (FDR) correction (FDR q = 0.034–0.042). Three SNPs in another SNP group in the Filamin B (FLNB) gene were also associated with stature, significantly so with FDR q = 0.042–0.048. In follow-up independent replication studies, rs10734652 in the SBF2 gene was significantly (P = 0.036) and suggestively (P = 0.07) associated with stature in Caucasian families and 1306 unrelated Caucasian subjects, respectively, and rs9834312 in the FLNB gene was also associated with stature in such two independent Caucasian populations (P = 0.008 in unrelated sample and P = 0.049 in family sample). Particularly, additional significant replication association signals were detected in Chinese, an ethnic population different from Caucasian, between rs9834312 and stature in 619 unrelated northern Chinese subjects (P = 0.017), as well as between rs10734652 and stature in 2953 unrelated southern Chinese subjects (P = 0.048). This study also provides additional replication evidence for some of the already published stature loci. These results, together with the known functional relevance of the SBF2 and FLNB genes to skeletal linear growth and bone formation, support that two regions containing FLNB and SBF2 genes are two novel loci underlying stature variation.
PMCID: PMC2667283  PMID: 19039035
5.  Multicenter dizygotic twin cohort study confirms two linkage susceptibility loci for body mass index at 3q29 and 7q36 and identifies three further potential novel loci 
To identify common loci and potential genetic variants affecting body mass index (BMI, kg m−2) in study populations originating from Europe.
We combined genome-wide linkage scans of six cohorts from Australia, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom with an ~10-cM microsatellite marker map. Variance components linkage analysis was carried out with age, sex and country of origin as covariates.
The GenomEUtwin consortium consists of twin cohorts from eight countries (Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom) with a total data collection of more than 500 000 monozygotic and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs. Variance due to early-life events and the environment is reduced within twin pairs, which makes DZ pairs highly valuable for linkage studies of complex traits. This study totaled 4401 European-originated twin families (10 535 individuals) from six countries (Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom).
We found suggestive evidence for a quantitative trait locus on 3q29 and 7q36 in the combined sample of DZ twins (multipoint logarithm of odds score (MLOD) 2.6 and 2.4, respectively). Two individual cohorts showed strong evidence independently for three additional loci: 16q23 (MLOD = 3.7) and 2p24 (MLOD = 3.4) in the Dutch cohort and 20q13 (MLOD = 3.2) in the Finnish cohort.
Linkage analysis of the combined data in this large twin cohort study provided evidence for suggestive linkage to BMI. In addition, two cohorts independently provided significant evidence of linkage to three new loci. The results of our study suggest a smaller environmental variance between DZ twins than full siblings, with a corresponding increase in heritability for BMI as well as an increase in linkage signal in well-replicated regions. The results are consistent with the possibility of locus heterogeneity for some genomic regions, and indicate a lack of major common quantitative trait locus variants affecting BMI in European populations.
PMCID: PMC2873558  PMID: 19721450
genetic linkage; body mass index; dizygotic twins; quantitative trait locus; heritability
6.  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
7.  Genome scan for body mass index and height in the Framingham Heart Study 
BMC Genetics  2003;4(Suppl 1):S91.
Body mass index (BMI) and adult height are moderately and highly heritable traits, respectively. To investigate the genetic background of these quantitative phenotypes, we performed a linkage genome scan in the extended pedigrees of the Framingham Heart Study. Two variance-components approaches (SOLAR and MERLIN-VC) and one regression method (MERLIN-REGRESS) were applied to the data.
Evidence for linkage to BMI was found on chromosomes 16 and 6 with maximum LOD scores of 3.2 and 2.7, respectively. For height, all markers showing a LOD score greater than 1 in our analysis correspond to previously reported linkage regions, including chromosome 6q with a maximum LOD score of 2.45 and chromosomes 9, 12, 14, 18, and 22. Regarding the analysis, the three applied methods gave very similar results in this unselected sample with approximately normally distributed traits.
Our analysis resulted in the successful identification of linked regions. In particular, we consider the regions on chromosomes 6 and 16 for BMI and the regions on chromosomes 6, 9, and 12 for stature interesting for fine mapping and candidate gene studies.
PMCID: PMC1866532  PMID: 14975159
8.  A genome-wide association study of serum uric acid in African Americans 
BMC Medical Genomics  2011;4:17.
Uric acid is the primary byproduct of purine metabolism. Hyperuricemia is associated with body mass index (BMI), sex, and multiple complex diseases including gout, hypertension (HTN), renal disease, and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Multiple genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in individuals of European ancestry (EA) have reported associations between serum uric acid levels (SUAL) and specific genomic loci. The purposes of this study were: 1) to replicate major signals reported in EA populations; and 2) to use the weak LD pattern in African ancestry population to better localize (fine-map) reported loci and 3) to explore the identification of novel findings cognizant of the moderate sample size.
African American (AA) participants (n = 1,017) from the Howard University Family Study were included in this study. Genotyping was performed using the Affymetrix® Genome-wide Human SNP Array 6.0. Imputation was performed using MACH and the HapMap reference panels for CEU and YRI. A total of 2,400,542 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were assessed for association with serum uric acid under the additive genetic model with adjustment for age, sex, BMI, glomerular filtration rate, HTN, T2D, and the top two principal components identified in the assessment of admixture and population stratification.
Four variants in the gene SLC2A9 achieved genome-wide significance for association with SUAL (p-values ranging from 8.88 × 10-9 to 1.38 × 10-9). Fine-mapping of the SLC2A9 signals identified a 263 kb interval of linkage disequilibrium in the HapMap CEU sample. This interval was reduced to 37 kb in our AA and the HapMap YRI samples.
The most strongly associated locus for SUAL in EA populations was also the most strongly associated locus in this AA sample. This finding provides evidence for the role of SLC2A9 in uric acid metabolism across human populations. Additionally, our findings demonstrate the utility of following-up EA populations GWAS signals in African-ancestry populations with weaker linkage disequilibrium.
PMCID: PMC3045279  PMID: 21294900
9.  Rare Copy Number Variants Are a Common Cause of Short Stature 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003365.
Human growth has an estimated heritability of about 80%–90%. Nevertheless, the underlying cause of shortness of stature remains unknown in the majority of individuals. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) showed that both common single nucleotide polymorphisms and copy number variants (CNVs) contribute to height variation under a polygenic model, although explaining only a small fraction of overall genetic variability in the general population. Under the hypothesis that severe forms of growth retardation might also be caused by major gene effects, we searched for rare CNVs in 200 families, 92 sporadic and 108 familial, with idiopathic short stature compared to 820 control individuals. Although similar in number, patients had overall significantly larger CNVs (p-value<1×10−7). In a gene-based analysis of all non-polymorphic CNVs>50 kb for gene function, tissue expression, and murine knock-out phenotypes, we identified 10 duplications and 10 deletions ranging in size from 109 kb to 14 Mb, of which 7 were de novo (p<0.03) and 13 inherited from the likewise affected parent but absent in controls. Patients with these likely disease causing 20 CNVs were smaller than the remaining group (p<0.01). Eleven (55%) of these CNVs either overlapped with known microaberration syndromes associated with short stature or contained GWAS loci for height. Haploinsufficiency (HI) score and further expression profiling suggested dosage sensitivity of major growth-related genes at these loci. Overall 10% of patients carried a disease-causing CNV indicating that, like in neurodevelopmental disorders, rare CNVs are a frequent cause of severe growth retardation.
Author Summary
With a frequency of 3%, shortness of stature is a common medical concern. Although family studies have clearly shown that gene defects play a pivotal role in the development of short stature, the underlying genetic variants involved remain unknown in about 80% of cases. In contrast to recent studies which aimed at the identification of common genetic variants to explain minor differences in the height variation in the general population, we targeted rare genomic variants where we expected a major gene effect on growth. By examining 200 patients clinically evaluated for short stature, we show that rare structural chromosomal aberrations (CNVs) are associated with shortness of stature in 10% of the cases. The identified CNVs were either de novo or segregated with short stature in the families and include genes that are functionally involved in growth regulation in humans or mice. We furthermore demonstrate an overlap of these CNVs with known microdeletion syndromes. Interestingly, 3 CNVs contain positions of common variants and confirm the localization of major growth-related genes. These findings are particularly important for identification of biological pathways leading to short stature, but also for further therapeutic approaches.
PMCID: PMC3597495  PMID: 23516380
10.  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
11.  Admixture Mapping of 15,280 African Americans Identifies Obesity Susceptibility Loci on Chromosomes 5 and X 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(5):e1000490.
The prevalence of obesity (body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2) is higher in African Americans than in European Americans, even after adjustment for socioeconomic factors, suggesting that genetic factors may explain some of the difference. To identify genetic loci influencing BMI, we carried out a pooled analysis of genome-wide admixture mapping scans in 15,280 African Americans from 14 epidemiologic studies. Samples were genotyped at a median of 1,411 ancestry-informative markers. After adjusting for age, sex, and study, BMI was analyzed both as a dichotomized (top 20% versus bottom 20%) and a continuous trait. We found that a higher percentage of European ancestry was significantly correlated with lower BMI (ρ = −0.042, P = 1.6×10−7). In the dichotomized analysis, we detected two loci on chromosome X as associated with increased African ancestry: the first at Xq25 (locus-specific LOD = 5.94; genome-wide score = 3.22; case-control Z = −3.94); and the second at Xq13.1 (locus-specific LOD = 2.22; case-control Z = −4.62). Quantitative analysis identified a third locus at 5q13.3 where higher BMI was highly significantly associated with greater European ancestry (locus-specific LOD = 6.27; genome-wide score = 3.46). Further mapping studies with dense sets of markers will be necessary to identify the alleles in these regions of chromosomes X and 5 that may be associated with variation in BMI.
Author Summary
Obesity is about 1.5-fold more prevalent in African Americans than European Americans. To determine whether genetic background may contribute to this observed disparity, we scanned the genomes of African Americans, searching for genomic regions where obese individuals have a difference from the average proportion of African ancestry. By examining genetic data from more than 15,000 African Americans, we show that the proportion of European ancestry is inversely correlated with BMI. In obese individuals, we detect two loci with increased African ancestry on chromosome X (Xq13.1 and Xq25) and one locus with increased European ancestry on chromosome 5 (5q13.3). The 5q13.3 and Xq25 regions both contain genes that are known to be involved in appetite regulation. Our results suggest that genetic factors may contribute to the difference in obesity prevalence between African Americans and European Americans. Further studies of the regions may identify the causative variants affecting susceptibility to obesity.
PMCID: PMC2679192  PMID: 19461885
12.  Earlier Mother's Age at Menarche Predicts Rapid Infancy Growth and Childhood Obesity 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e132.
Early menarche tends to be preceded by rapid infancy weight gain and is associated with increased childhood and adult obesity risk. As age at menarche is a heritable trait, we hypothesised that age at menarche in the mother may in turn predict her children's early growth and obesity risk.
Methods and Findings
We tested associations between mother's age at menarche, mother's adult body size and obesity risk, and her children's growth and obesity risk in 6,009 children from the UK population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort who had growth and fat mass at age 9 y measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. A subgroup of 914 children also had detailed infancy and childhood growth data. In the mothers, earlier menarche was associated with shorter adult height (by 0.64 cm/y), increased weight (0.92 kg/y), and body mass index (BMI, 0.51 kg/m2/y; all p < 0.001). In contrast, in her children, earlier mother's menarche predicted taller height at 9 y (by 0.41 cm/y) and greater weight (0.80 kg/y), BMI (0.29 kg/m2/y), and fat mass index (0.22 kg/m2/year; all p < 0.001). Children in the earliest mother's menarche quintile (≤11 y) were more obese than the oldest quintile (≥15 y) (OR, 2.15, 95% CI 1.46 to 3.17; p < 0.001, adjusted for mother's education and BMI). In the subgroup, children in the earliest quintile showed faster gains in weight (p < 0.001) and height (p < 0.001) only from birth to 2 y, but not from 2 to 9 y (p = 0.3–0.8).
Earlier age at menarche may be a transgenerational marker of a faster growth tempo, characterised by rapid weight gain and growth, particularly during infancy, and leading to taller childhood stature, but likely earlier maturation and therefore shorter adult stature. This growth pattern confers increased childhood and adult obesity risks.
Earlier age at menarche may be a transgenerational marker of faster growth, particularly during infancy, leading to taller childhood stature but earlier maturation and hence shorter adult stature.
Editors' Summary
Childhood obesity is a rapidly growing problem. Twenty-five years ago, overweight children were rare. Now, 155 million of the world's children are overweight and 30–45 million are obese. Overweight and obese children—those having a higher than average body mass index (BMI; weight divided by height squared) for their age and sex—are at increased risk of becoming obese adults. Such people are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems than lean people. Many factors are involved in the burgeoning size of children. Parental obesity, for example, predisposes children to being overweight. In part, this is because parents influence the eating habits of their offspring and the amount of exercise they do. In addition, though, children inherit genetic factors from their parents that make them more likely to put on weight.
Why Was This Study Done?
To prevent childhood obesity, health care professionals need ways to predict which infants are likely to become obese so that they can give parents advice on controlling their children's weight. In girls, early menarche (the start of menstruation) is associated with an increased risk of childhood and adult obesity and tends to be preceded by rapid weight gain in the first two years of life. Because age at menarche is inherited, the researchers in this study have investigated whether mothers' age at menarche predicts rapid growth in infancy and childhood obesity in their offspring using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). In 1991–1992, this study recruited nearly 14,000 children born in Bristol, UK. Since then, the children have been regularly examined to investigate how their environment and genetic inheritance interact to affect their health.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured the growth and fat mass of 6,009 children from ALSPAC at 9 years of age. For 914 of these children, the researchers had detailed data on their growth during infancy and early childhood. They then looked for any associations between the mother's age at menarche (as recalled during pregnancy), mother's adult body size, and the children's growth and obesity risk. In the mothers, earlier menarche was associated with shorter adult height and increased weight and BMI. In the children, those whose mothers had earlier menarche were taller and heavier than those whose mothers had a later menarche. They also had a higher BMI and more body fat. The children whose mothers had their first period before they were 11 were twice as likely to be obese as those whose mothers did not menstruate until they were 15 or older. Finally, for the children with detailed early growth data, those whose mothers had the earliest menarche had faster weight and height gains in the first two years of life (but not in the next seven years) than those whose mothers had the latest menarche.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that earlier mother's menarche predicts a faster growth tempo (the speed at which an individual reaches their adult height) in their offspring, which is characterized by rapid weight and height gain during infancy. This faster growth tempo leads to taller childhood stature, earlier sexual maturity, and—because age at puberty determines adult height—shorter adult stature. An inherited growth pattern like this, the researchers write, confers an increased risk of childhood and adult obesity. As with all studies that look for associations between different measurements, these findings will be affected by the accuracy of the measurements—for example, how well the mothers recalled their age at menarche. Furthermore, because puberty, particularly in girls, is associated with an increase in body fat, a high BMI at age nine might indicate imminent puberty rather than a risk of long-standing obesity—further follow-up studies will clarify this point. Nevertheless, the current findings provide a new factor—earlier mother's menarche—that could help health care professionals identify which infants require early growth monitoring to avoid later obesity.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children has a description of the study and results to date
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
US Department of Health and Human Services's program, Smallstep Kids, is an interactive site for children about healthy eating (in English and Spanish)
The International Obesity Taskforce has information on obesity and its prevention
The World Heart Federation's Global Prevention Alliance provides details of international efforts to halt the obesity epidemic and its associated chronic diseases
The Child Growth Foundation has information on childhood growth and its measurement
PMCID: PMC1876410  PMID: 17455989
13.  Genome-wide linkage and peak-wide association study of obesity-related quantitative traits in Caribbean Hispanics 
Human genetics  2010;129(2):209-219.
Although obesity is more prevalent in Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites in the United States, little is known about the genetic etiology of the related traits in this population. To identify genetic loci influencing obesity in non-Mexican Hispanics, we performed a genome-wide linkage scan in 1,390 subjects from 100 Caribbean Hispanic families on six obesity-related quantitative traits: body mass index (BMI), body weight, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, abdominal and average triceps skinfold thickness after adjusting for significant demographic and lifestyle factors. We then carried out an association analysis of the linkage peaks and the FTO gene in an independent community-based Hispanic subcohort (N = 652, 64% Caribbean Hispanics) from the Northern Manhattan Study. Evidence of linkage was strongest on 1q43 with multipoint LOD score of 2.45 (p = 0.0004) for body weight. Suggestive linkage evidence of LOD > 2.0 was also identified on 1q43 for BMI (LOD = 2.03), 14q32 for abdominal skinfold thickness (LOD = 2.17), 16p12 for BMI (LOD = 2.27) and weight (LOD = 2.26), and 16q23–24 for average triceps skinfold thickness (LOD = 2.32). In the association analysis of 6,440 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) under 1-LOD unit down regions of our linkage peaks on chromosome 1q43 and 16p12 as well as in the FTO gene, we found that two SNPs (rs6665519 and rs669231) on 1q43 and one FTO SNP (rs12447427) were significantly associated with BMI or body weight after adjustment for multiple testing. Our results suggest that in addition to FTO, multiple genetic loci, particularly those on 1q43 region, may contribute to the variations in obesity-related quantitative traits in Caribbean Hispanics.
PMCID: PMC4101466  PMID: 21104097
14.  Physical Activity Attenuates the Genetic Predisposition to Obesity in 20,000 Men and Women from EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000332.
Shengxu Li and colleagues use data from a large prospective observational cohort to examine the extent to which a genetic predisposition toward obesity may be modified by living a physically active lifestyle.
We have previously shown that multiple genetic loci identified by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) increase the susceptibility to obesity in a cumulative manner. It is, however, not known whether and to what extent this genetic susceptibility may be attenuated by a physically active lifestyle. We aimed to assess the influence of a physically active lifestyle on the genetic predisposition to obesity in a large population-based study.
Methods and Findings
We genotyped 12 SNPs in obesity-susceptibility loci in a population-based sample of 20,430 individuals (aged 39–79 y) from the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC)-Norfolk cohort with an average follow-up period of 3.6 y. A genetic predisposition score was calculated for each individual by adding the body mass index (BMI)-increasing alleles across the 12 SNPs. Physical activity was assessed using a self-administered questionnaire. Linear and logistic regression models were used to examine main effects of the genetic predisposition score and its interaction with physical activity on BMI/obesity risk and BMI change over time, assuming an additive effect for each additional BMI-increasing allele carried. Each additional BMI-increasing allele was associated with 0.154 (standard error [SE] 0.012) kg/m2 (p = 6.73×10−37) increase in BMI (equivalent to 445 g in body weight for a person 1.70 m tall). This association was significantly (pinteraction = 0.005) more pronounced in inactive people (0.205 [SE 0.024] kg/m2 [p = 3.62×10−18; 592 g in weight]) than in active people (0.131 [SE 0.014] kg/m2 [p = 7.97×10−21; 379 g in weight]). Similarly, each additional BMI-increasing allele increased the risk of obesity 1.116-fold (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.093–1.139, p = 3.37×10−26) in the whole population, but significantly (pinteraction = 0.015) more in inactive individuals (odds ratio [OR] = 1.158 [95% CI 1.118–1.199; p = 1.93×10−16]) than in active individuals (OR = 1.095 (95% CI 1.068–1.123; p = 1.15×10−12]). Consistent with the cross-sectional observations, physical activity modified the association between the genetic predisposition score and change in BMI during follow-up (pinteraction = 0.028).
Our study shows that living a physically active lifestyle is associated with a 40% reduction in the genetic predisposition to common obesity, as estimated by the number of risk alleles carried for any of the 12 recently GWAS-identified loci.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In the past few decades, the global incidence of obesity—defined as a body mass index (BMI, a simple index of weight-for-height that uses the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) of 30 and over, has increased so much that this growing public health concern is now commonly referred to as the “obesity epidemic.” Once considered prevalent only in high-income countries, obesity is an increasing health problem in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. In 2005, at least 400 million adults world-wide were obese, and the projected figure for 2015 is a substantial increase of 300 million to around 700 million. Childhood obesity is also a growing concern. Contributing factors to the obesity epidemic are a shift in diet to an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars and a trend towards decreased physical activity due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
However, genetics are also thought to play a critical role as genetically predisposed individuals may be more prone to obesity if they live in an environment that has abundant access to energy-dense food and labor-saving devices.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although recent genetic studies (genome-wide association studies) have identified 12 alleles (a DNA variant that is located at a specific position on a specific chromosome) associated with increased BMI, there has been no convincing evidence of the interaction between genetics and lifestyle. In this study the researchers examined the possibility of such an interaction by assessing whether individuals with a genetic predisposition to increased obesity risk could modify this risk by increasing their daily physical activity.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a population-based cohort study of 25,631 people living in Norwich, UK (The EPIC-Norfolk study) and identified individuals who were 39 to 79 years old during a health check between 1993 and 1997. The researchers invited these people to a second health examination. In total, 20,430 individuals had baseline data available, of which 11,936 had BMI data at the second health check. The researchers used genotyping methods and then calculated a genetic predisposition score for each individual and their occupational and leisure-time physical activities were assessed by using a validated self-administered questionnaire. Then, the researchers used modeling techniques to examine the main effects of the genetic predisposition score and its interaction with physical activity on BMI/obesity risk and BMI change over time. The researchers found that each additional BMI-increasing allele was associated with an increase in BMI equivalent to 445 g in body weight for a person 1.70 m tall and that the size of this effect was greater in inactive people than in active people. In individuals who have a physically active lifestyle, this increase was only 379 g/allele, or 36% lower than in physically inactive individuals in whom the increase was 592 g/allele. Furthermore, in the total sample each additional obesity-susceptibility allele increased the odds of obesity by 1.116-fold. However, the increased odds per allele for obesity risk were 40% lower in physically active individuals (1.095 odds/allele) compared to physically inactive individuals (1.158 odds/allele).
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this study indicate that the genetic predisposition to obesity can be reduced by approximately 40% by having a physically active lifestyle. The findings of this study suggest that, while the whole population benefits from increased physical activity levels, individuals who are genetically predisposed to obesity would benefit more than genetically protected individuals. Furthermore, these findings challenge the deterministic view of the genetic predisposition to obesity that is often held by the public, as they show that even the most genetically predisposed individuals will benefit from adopting a healthy lifestyle. The results are limited by participants self-reporting their physical activity levels, which is less accurate than objective measures of physical activity.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study relies on the results of previous genome-wide association studies The National Human Genome Research Institute provides an easy-to-follow guide to understanding such studies
The International Association for the Study of Obesity aims to improve global health by promoting the understanding of obesity and weight-related diseases through scientific research and dialogue
The International Obesity Taskforce is the research-led think tank and advocacy arm of the International Association for the Study of Obesity
The Global Alliance for the Prevention of Obesity and Related Chronic Disease is a global action program that addresses the issues surrounding the prevention of obesity
The National Institutes of Health has its own obesity task force, which includes 26 institutes
PMCID: PMC2930873  PMID: 20824172
15.  Genetic risk sum score comprised of common polygenic variation is associated with body mass index 
Human Genetics  2010;129(2):221-230.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of body mass index (BMI) using large samples have yielded approximately a dozen robustly associated variants and implicated additional loci. Individually these variants have small effects and in aggregate explain a small proportion of the variance. As a result, replication attempts have limited power to achieve genome-wide significance, even with several thousand subjects. Since there is strong prior evidence for genetic influence on BMI for specific variants, alternative approaches to replication can be applied. Instead of testing individual loci sequentially, a genetic risk sum score (GRSS) summarizing the total number of risk alleles can be tested. In the current study, GRSS comprising 56 top variants catalogued from two large meta-analyses was tested for association with BMI in the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia controls (2,653 European-Americans, 973 African-Americans). After accounting for covariates known to influence BMI (ancestry, sex, age), GRSS was highly associated with BMI (p value = 3.19E−06) although explained a limited amount of the variance (0.66%). However, area under receiver operator criteria curve (AUC) estimates indicated that the GRSS and covariates significantly predicted overweight and obesity classification with maximum discriminative ability for predicting class III obesity (AUC = 0.697). The relative contributions of the individual loci to GRSS were examined post hoc and the results were not due to a few highly significant variants, but rather the result of numerous variants of small effect. This study provides evidence of the utility of a GRSS as an alternative approach to replication of common polygenic variation in complex traits.
PMCID: PMC3403709  PMID: 21104096
16.  Ordered subset linkage analysis supports a susceptibility locus for age-related macular degeneration on chromosome 16p12 
BMC Genetics  2004;5:18.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a complex disorder that is responsible for the majority of central vision loss in older adults living in developed countries. Phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity complicate the analysis of genome-wide scans for AMD susceptibility loci. The ordered subset analysis (OSA) method is an approach for reducing heterogeneity, increasing statistical power for detecting linkage, and helping to define the most informative data set for follow-up analysis. OSA assesses the linkage evidence in subsets of potentially more homogeneous families by rank-ordering family-specific lod scores with respect to trait-associated covariates or phenotypic features. Here, we present results of incorporating five continuous covariates into our genome-wide linkage analysis of 389 microsatellite markers in 62 multiplex families: Body mass index (BMI), systolic (SBP) and diastolic (DBP) blood pressure, intraocular pressure (IOP), and pack-years of cigarette smoking. Chromosome-wide significance of increases in nonparametric multipoint lod scores in covariate-defined subsets relative to the overall sample was assessed by permutation.
Using a correction for testing multiple covariates, statistically significant lod score increases were observed for two chromosomal regions: 14q13 with a lod score of 3.2 in 28 families with average IOP ≤ 15.5 (p = 0.002), and 6q14 with a lod score of 1.6 in eight families with average BMI ≥ 30.1 (p = 0.0004). On chromosome 16p12, nominally significant lod score increases (p ≤ 0.05), up to a lod score of 2.9 in 32 families, were observed with several covariate orderings. While less significant, this was the only region where linkage evidence was associated with multiple clinically meaningful covariates and the only nominally significant finding when analysis was restricted to advanced forms of AMD. Families with linkage to 16p12 had higher averages of SBP, IOP and BMI and were primarily affected with neovascular AMD. For all three regions, linkage signals at or very near the peak marker have previously been reported.
Our results suggest that a susceptibility gene on chromosome 16p12 may predispose to AMD, particularly to the neovascular form, and that further research into the previously suggested association of neovascular AMD and systemic hypertension is warranted.
PMCID: PMC481059  PMID: 15238159
17.  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
18.  Genome-Wide Population-Based Association Study of Extremely Overweight Young Adults – The GOYA Study 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24303.
Thirty-two common variants associated with body mass index (BMI) have been identified in genome-wide association studies, explaining ∼1.45% of BMI variation in general population cohorts. We performed a genome-wide association study in a sample of young adults enriched for extremely overweight individuals. We aimed to identify new loci associated with BMI and to ascertain whether using an extreme sampling design would identify the variants known to be associated with BMI in general populations.
Methodology/Principal Findings
From two large Danish cohorts we selected all extremely overweight young men and women (n = 2,633), and equal numbers of population-based controls (n = 2,740, drawn randomly from the same populations as the extremes, representing ∼212,000 individuals). We followed up novel (at the time of the study) association signals (p<0.001) from the discovery cohort in a genome-wide study of 5,846 Europeans, before attempting to replicate the most strongly associated 28 SNPs in an independent sample of Danish individuals (n = 20,917) and a population-based cohort of 15-year-old British adolescents (n = 2,418). Our discovery analysis identified SNPs at three loci known to be associated with BMI with genome-wide confidence (P<5×10−8; FTO, MC4R and FAIM2). We also found strong evidence of association at the known TMEM18, GNPDA2, SEC16B, TFAP2B, SH2B1 and KCTD15 loci (p<0.001), and nominal association (p<0.05) at a further 8 loci known to be associated with BMI. However, meta-analyses of our discovery and replication cohorts identified no novel associations.
Our results indicate that the detectable genetic variation associated with extreme overweight is very similar to that previously found for general BMI. This suggests that population-based study designs with enriched sampling of individuals with the extreme phenotype may be an efficient method for identifying common variants that influence quantitative traits and a valid alternative to genotyping all individuals in large population-based studies, which may require tens of thousands of subjects to achieve similar power.
PMCID: PMC3174168  PMID: 21935397
19.  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
20.  Genetic risk factors for body mass index and obesity in an ethnically diverse population: results from the Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) Study 
Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)  2013;21(4):10.1002/oby.20268.
Several genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have demonstrated that common genetic variants contribute to obesity. However, studies of this complex trait have focused on ancestrally European populations, despite the high prevalence of obesity in some minority groups. As part of the ‘Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE)’ Consortium, we investigated the association between thirteen GWAS-identified SNPs and BMI and obesity in 69,775 subjects, including 6,149 American Indians, 15,415 African-Americans, 2,438 East Asians, 7,346 Hispanics, 604 Pacific Islanders, and 37,823 European Americans. For the BMI-increasing allele of each SNP, we calculated beta coefficients using linear regression (for BMI) and risk estimates using logistic regression (for obesity defined as BMI ≥ 30) followed by fixed-effects meta-analysis to combine results across PAGE sites. Analyses stratified by racial/ethnic group assumed an additive genetic model and adjusted for age, sex, and current smoking. We defined “replicating SNPs” (in European Americans) and “generalizing SNPs” (in other racial/ethnic groups) as those associated with an allele frequency-specific increase in BMI. By this definition, we replicated 9/13 SNP associations (5 out of 8 loci) in European Americans. We also generalized 8/13 SNP associations (5/8 loci) in East Asians, 7/13 (5/8 loci) in African Americans, 6/13 (4/8 loci) in Hispanics, 5/8 in Pacific Islanders (5/8 loci), and 5/9 (4/8 loci) in American Indians. Linkage disequilibrium patterns suggest that tagSNPs selected for European Americans may not adequately tag causal variants in other ancestry groups. Accordingly, fine-mapping in large samples is needed to comprehensively explore these loci in diverse populations.
PMCID: PMC3482415  PMID: 23712987
21.  Genome-Wide Association Scan Shows Genetic Variants in the FTO Gene Are Associated with Obesity-Related Traits 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(7):e115.
The obesity epidemic is responsible for a substantial economic burden in developed countries and is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The disease is the result not only of several environmental risk factors, but also of genetic predisposition. To take advantage of recent advances in gene-mapping technology, we executed a genome-wide association scan to identify genetic variants associated with obesity-related quantitative traits in the genetically isolated population of Sardinia. Initial analysis suggested that several SNPs in the FTO and PFKP genes were associated with increased BMI, hip circumference, and weight. Within the FTO gene, rs9930506 showed the strongest association with BMI (p = 8.6 ×10−7), hip circumference (p = 3.4 × 10−8), and weight (p = 9.1 × 10−7). In Sardinia, homozygotes for the rare “G” allele of this SNP (minor allele frequency = 0.46) were 1.3 BMI units heavier than homozygotes for the common “A” allele. Within the PFKP gene, rs6602024 showed very strong association with BMI (p = 4.9 × 10−6). Homozygotes for the rare “A” allele of this SNP (minor allele frequency = 0.12) were 1.8 BMI units heavier than homozygotes for the common “G” allele. To replicate our findings, we genotyped these two SNPs in the GenNet study. In European Americans (N = 1,496) and in Hispanic Americans (N = 839), we replicated significant association between rs9930506 in the FTO gene and BMI (p-value for meta-analysis of European American and Hispanic American follow-up samples, p = 0.001), weight (p = 0.001), and hip circumference (p = 0.0005). We did not replicate association between rs6602024 and obesity-related traits in the GenNet sample, although we found that in European Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans, homozygotes for the rare “A” allele were, on average, 1.0–3.0 BMI units heavier than homozygotes for the more common “G” allele. In summary, we have completed a whole genome–association scan for three obesity-related quantitative traits and report that common genetic variants in the FTO gene are associated with substantial changes in BMI, hip circumference, and body weight. These changes could have a significant impact on the risk of obesity-related morbidity in the general population.
Author Summary
Although twin and family studies have clearly shown that genes play a role in obesity, it has proven quite difficult to identify the specific genetic variants involved. Here, we take advantage of recent technical and methodological advances to examine the role of common genetic variants on several obesity-related traits. By examining >4,000 Sardinians, we show that a specific genetic variant, rs9930506, and other nearby variants on human Chromosome 16 are associated with body mass index, hip circumference, and total body weight. The variants overlap FTO, a gene with poorly understood function. Further studies of the region may implicate new biological pathways affecting susceptibility to obesity. We also show that the association is not restricted to Sardinia but is also seen in independent samples of European Americans and Hispanic Americans. This finding is particularly important because obesity is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
PMCID: PMC1934391  PMID: 17658951
22.  Linkage Mapping of CVD Risk Traits in the Isolated Norfolk Island Population 
Human genetics  2008;124(5):543-552.
To understand the underlying genetic architecture of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk traits, we undertook a genome-wide linkage scan to identify CVD quantitative trait loci (QTLs) in 377 individuals from the Norfolk Island population. The central aim of this research focused on the utilization of a genetically and geographically isolated population of individuals from Norfolk Island for the purposes of variance component linkage analysis to identify QTLs involved in CVD risk traits. Substantial evidence supports the involvement of traits such as systolic and diastolic blood pressures (SBP and DBP), high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), body mass index (BMI) and triglycerides (TG) as important risk factors for CVD pathogenesis. In addition to the environmental influences of poor diet, reduced physical activity, increasing age, cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, many studies have illustrated a strong involvement of genetic components in the CVD phenotype through family and twin studies. We undertook a genome scan using 400 markers spaced approximately 10cM in 600 individuals from Norfolk Island. Genotype data was analyzed using the variance components methods of SOLAR. Our results gave a peak LOD score of 2.01 localizing to chromosome 1p36 for systolic blood pressure and replicated previously implicated loci for other CVD relevant QTLs.
PMCID: PMC2633922  PMID: 18975005
Cardiovascular disease; QTL mapping; genetic isolate; genome scan; heritability; variance components analysis
23.  Diabetes-specific genetic effects on obesity traits in American Indian populations: the Strong Heart Family Study 
BMC Medical Genetics  2008;9:90.
Body fat mass distribution and deposition are determined by multiple environmental and genetic factors. Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and type 2 diabetes. We previously identified evidence for genotype-by-diabetes interaction on obesity traits in Strong Heart Family Study (SHFS) participants. To localize these genetic effects, we conducted genome-wide linkage scans of obesity traits in individuals with and without type 2 diabetes, and in the combined sample while modeling interaction with diabetes using maximum likelihood methods (SOLAR 2.1.4).
SHFS recruited American Indians from Arizona, North and South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Anthropometric measures and diabetes status were obtained during a clinic visit. Marker allele frequencies were derived using maximum likelihood methods estimated from all individuals and multipoint identity by descent sharing was estimated using Loki. We used variance component linkage analysis to localize quantitative trait loci (QTLs) influencing obesity traits. We tested for evidence of additive and QTL-specific genotype-by-diabetes interactions using the regions identified in the diabetes-stratified analyses.
Among 245 diabetic and 704 non-diabetic American Indian individuals, we detected significant additive gene-by-diabetes interaction for weight and BMI (P < 0.02). In analysis accounting for QTL-specific interaction (P < 0.001), we detected a QTL for weight on chromosome 1 at 242 cM (LOD = 3.7). This chromosome region harbors the adiponectin receptor 1 gene, which has been previously associated with obesity.
These results suggest distinct genetic effects on body mass in individuals with diabetes compared to those without diabetes, and a possible role for one or more genes on chromosome 1 in the pathogenesis of obesity.
PMCID: PMC2572048  PMID: 18854016
24.  Meta-Analysis of Genome-Wide Scans for Human Adult Stature Identifies Novel Loci and Associations with Measures of Skeletal Frame Size 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(4):e1000445.
Recent genome-wide (GW) scans have identified several independent loci affecting human stature, but their contribution through the different skeletal components of height is still poorly understood. We carried out a genome-wide scan in 12,611 participants, followed by replication in an additional 7,187 individuals, and identified 17 genomic regions with GW-significant association with height. Of these, two are entirely novel (rs11809207 in CATSPER4, combined P-value = 6.1×10−8 and rs910316 in TMED10, P-value = 1.4×10−7) and two had previously been described with weak statistical support (rs10472828 in NPR3, P-value = 3×10−7 and rs849141 in JAZF1, P-value = 3.2×10−11). One locus (rs1182188 at GNA12) identifies the first height eQTL. We also assessed the contribution of height loci to the upper- (trunk) and lower-body (hip axis and femur) skeletal components of height. We find evidence for several loci associated with trunk length (including rs6570507 in GPR126, P-value = 4×10−5 and rs6817306 in LCORL, P-value = 4×10−4), hip axis length (including rs6830062 at LCORL, P-value = 4.8×10−4 and rs4911494 at UQCC, P-value = 1.9×10−4), and femur length (including rs710841 at PRKG2, P-value = 2.4×10−5 and rs10946808 at HIST1H1D, P-value = 6.4×10−6). Finally, we used conditional analyses to explore a possible differential contribution of the height loci to these different skeletal size measurements. In addition to validating four novel loci controlling adult stature, our study represents the first effort to assess the contribution of genetic loci to three skeletal components of height. Further statistical tests in larger numbers of individuals will be required to verify if the height loci affect height preferentially through these subcomponents of height.
Author Summary
The first genetic association studies of adult height have confirmed a role of many common variants in influencing human height, but to date, the genetic basis of differences between different skeletal components of height have not been addressed. Here, we take advantage of recent technical and methodological advances to examine the role of common genetic variants on both height and skeletal components of height. By examining nearly 20,000 individuals from the UK and the Netherlands, we provide statistically significant evidence that 17 genomic regions are associated with height, including four novel regions. We also examine, for the first time, the association of these 17 regions with skeletal size measurements of spine, femur, and hip axis length, a measurement of hip geometry known to influence the risk of osteoporotic fractures. We find that some height loci are also associated with these skeletal components, although further statistical tests will be required to verify if these genetic variants act differentially on the individual skeletal measurements. The knowledge generated by this and other studies will not only inform the genetics of human quantitative variation, but will also lead to the potential discovery of many medically important polymorphisms.
PMCID: PMC2661236  PMID: 19343178
25.  Genome-Wide Linkage Scan for Genes Influencing Plasma Triglyceride Levels in the Veterans Administration Genetic Epidemiology Study 
Diabetes  2009;58(1):279-284.
OBJECTIVE—Elevated plasma triglyceride concentration is a component of the insulin resistance syndrome and is commonly associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and coronary heart disease. The goal of our study was to perform a genome-wide linkage scan to identify genetic regions that influence variation in plasma triglyceride levels in families that are enriched with individuals with type 2 diabetes.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—We used phenotypic and genotypic data from 1,026 individuals distributed across 294 Mexican-American families, who were ascertained for type 2 diabetes, from the Veterans Administration Genetic Epidemiology Study (VAGES). Plasma triglyceride values were transformed, and a variance-components technique was used to conduct multipoint linkage analysis.
RESULTS—After adjusting for the significant effects of sex and BMI, heritability for plasma triglycerides was estimated as 46 ± 7% (P < 0.0001). Multipoint linkage analysis yielded the strongest evidence for linkage of plasma triglycerides near marker D12S391 on chromosome 12p (logarithm of odds [LOD] = 2.4). Our linkage signal on chromosome 12p provides independent replication of a similar finding in another Mexican-American sample from the San Antonio Family Diabetes Study (SAFDS). Combined multipoint linkage analysis of the VAGES and SAFDS data yielded significant evidence for linkage of plasma triglycerides to a genetic location between markers GATA49D12 and D12S391 on 12p (LOD = 3.8, empirical P value = 2.0 × 10−5). This region on 12p harbors the gene-encoding adiponectin receptor 2 (AdipoR2), where we previously have shown that multiple single nucleotide polymorphisms are associated with plasma triglyceride concentrations in the SAFDS. In the present study, we provided suggestive evidence in favor of association for rs929434 with triglyceride concentrations in the VAGES.
CONCLUSIONS—Collectively, these results provide strong evidence for a major locus on chromosome 12p that influences plasma triglyceride levels in Mexican Americans.
PMCID: PMC2606886  PMID: 18931038

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