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1.  Gene-Lifestyle Interaction and Type 2 Diabetes: The EPIC InterAct Case-Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001647.
In this study, Wareham and colleagues quantified the combined effects of genetic and lifestyle factors on risk of T2D in order to inform strategies for prevention. The authors found that the relative effect of a type 2 diabetes genetic risk score is greater in younger and leaner participants, and the high absolute risk associated with obesity at any level of genetic risk highlights the importance of universal rather than targeted approaches to lifestyle intervention.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Understanding of the genetic basis of type 2 diabetes (T2D) has progressed rapidly, but the interactions between common genetic variants and lifestyle risk factors have not been systematically investigated in studies with adequate statistical power. Therefore, we aimed to quantify the combined effects of genetic and lifestyle factors on risk of T2D in order to inform strategies for prevention.
Methods and Findings
The InterAct study includes 12,403 incident T2D cases and a representative sub-cohort of 16,154 individuals from a cohort of 340,234 European participants with 3.99 million person-years of follow-up. We studied the combined effects of an additive genetic T2D risk score and modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors using Prentice-weighted Cox regression and random effects meta-analysis methods. The effect of the genetic score was significantly greater in younger individuals (p for interaction  = 1.20×10−4). Relative genetic risk (per standard deviation [4.4 risk alleles]) was also larger in participants who were leaner, both in terms of body mass index (p for interaction  = 1.50×10−3) and waist circumference (p for interaction  = 7.49×10−9). Examination of absolute risks by strata showed the importance of obesity for T2D risk. The 10-y cumulative incidence of T2D rose from 0.25% to 0.89% across extreme quartiles of the genetic score in normal weight individuals, compared to 4.22% to 7.99% in obese individuals. We detected no significant interactions between the genetic score and sex, diabetes family history, physical activity, or dietary habits assessed by a Mediterranean diet score.
Conclusions
The relative effect of a T2D genetic risk score is greater in younger and leaner participants. However, this sub-group is at low absolute risk and would not be a logical target for preventive interventions. The high absolute risk associated with obesity at any level of genetic risk highlights the importance of universal rather than targeted approaches to lifestyle intervention.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, more than 380 million people currently have diabetes, and the condition is becoming increasingly common. Diabetes is characterized by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar levels are usually controlled by insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas after meals (digestion of food produces glucose). In people with type 2 diabetes (the commonest type of diabetes), blood sugar control fails because the fat and muscle cells that normally respond to insulin by removing excess sugar from the blood become less responsive to insulin. Type 2 diabetes can often initially be controlled with diet and exercise (lifestyle changes) and with antidiabetic drugs such as metformin and sulfonylureas, but patients may eventually need insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels. Long-term complications of diabetes, which include an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce the life expectancy of people with diabetes by about ten years compared to people without diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Type 2 diabetes is thought to originate from the interplay between genetic and lifestyle factors. But although rapid progress is being made in understanding the genetic basis of type 2 diabetes, it is not known whether the consequences of adverse lifestyles (for example, being overweight and/or physically inactive) differ according to an individual's underlying genetic risk of diabetes. It is important to investigate this question to inform strategies for prevention. If, for example, obese individuals with a high level of genetic risk have a higher risk of developing diabetes than obese individuals with a low level of genetic risk, then preventative strategies that target lifestyle interventions to obese individuals with a high genetic risk would be more effective than strategies that target all obese individuals. In this case-cohort study, researchers from the InterAct consortium quantify the combined effects of genetic and lifestyle factors on the risk of type 2 diabetes. A case-cohort study measures exposure to potential risk factors in a group (cohort) of people and compares the occurrence of these risk factors in people who later develop the disease with those who remain disease free.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The InterAct study involves 12,403 middle-aged individuals who developed type 2 diabetes after enrollment (incident cases) into the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) and a sub-cohort of 16,154 EPIC participants. The researchers calculated a genetic type 2 diabetes risk score for most of these individuals by determining which of 49 gene variants associated with type 2 diabetes each person carried, and collected baseline information about exposure to lifestyle risk factors for type 2 diabetes. They then used various statistical approaches to examine the combined effects of the genetic risk score and lifestyle factors on diabetes development. The effect of the genetic score was greater in younger individuals than in older individuals and greater in leaner participants than in participants with larger amounts of body fat. The absolute risk of type 2 diabetes, expressed as the ten-year cumulative incidence of type 2 diabetes (the percentage of participants who developed diabetes over a ten-year period) increased with increasing genetic score in normal weight individuals from 0.25% in people with the lowest genetic risk scores to 0.89% in those with the highest scores; in obese people, the ten-year cumulative incidence rose from 4.22% to 7.99% with increasing genetic risk score.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in this middle-aged cohort, the relative association with type 2 diabetes of a genetic risk score comprised of a large number of gene variants is greatest in individuals who are younger and leaner at baseline. This finding may in part reflect the methods used to originally identify gene variants associated with type 2 diabetes, and future investigations that include other genetic variants, other lifestyle factors, and individuals living in other settings should be undertaken to confirm this finding. Importantly, however, this study shows that young, lean individuals with a high genetic risk score have a low absolute risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Thus, this sub-group of individuals is not a logical target for preventative interventions. Rather, suggest the researchers, the high absolute risk of type 2 diabetes associated with obesity at any level of genetic risk highlights the importance of universal rather than targeted approaches to lifestyle intervention.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001647.
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides information about diabetes for patients, health-care professionals and the general public, including detailed information on diabetes prevention (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and carers about type 2 diabetes and about living with diabetes; it also provides people's stories about diabetes
The charity Diabetes UK provides detailed information for patients and carers in several languages, including information on healthy lifestyles for people with diabetes
The UK-based non-profit organization Healthtalkonline has interviews with people about their experiences of diabetes
The Genetic Landscape of Diabetes is published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information
More information on the InterAct study is available
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes and diabetes prevention (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001647
PMCID: PMC4028183  PMID: 24845081
2.  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
Background
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).
Conclusions
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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001474.
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
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001474
PMCID: PMC3692470  PMID: 23824655
3.  Causal Relationship between Obesity and Vitamin D Status: Bi-Directional Mendelian Randomization Analysis of Multiple Cohorts 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001383.
A mendelian randomization study based on data from multiple cohorts conducted by Karani Santhanakrishnan Vimaleswaran and colleagues re-examines the causal nature of the relationship between vitamin D levels and obesity.
Background
Obesity is associated with vitamin D deficiency, and both are areas of active public health concern. We explored the causality and direction of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] using genetic markers as instrumental variables (IVs) in bi-directional Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis.
Methods and Findings
We used information from 21 adult cohorts (up to 42,024 participants) with 12 BMI-related SNPs (combined in an allelic score) to produce an instrument for BMI and four SNPs associated with 25(OH)D (combined in two allelic scores, separately for genes encoding its synthesis or metabolism) as an instrument for vitamin D. Regression estimates for the IVs (allele scores) were generated within-study and pooled by meta-analysis to generate summary effects.
Associations between vitamin D scores and BMI were confirmed in the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium (n = 123,864). Each 1 kg/m2 higher BMI was associated with 1.15% lower 25(OH)D (p = 6.52×10−27). The BMI allele score was associated both with BMI (p = 6.30×10−62) and 25(OH)D (−0.06% [95% CI −0.10 to −0.02], p = 0.004) in the cohorts that underwent meta-analysis. The two vitamin D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D (p≤8.07×10−57 for both scores) but not with BMI (synthesis score, p = 0.88; metabolism score, p = 0.08) in the meta-analysis. A 10% higher genetically instrumented BMI was associated with 4.2% lower 25(OH)D concentrations (IV ratio: −4.2 [95% CI −7.1 to −1.3], p = 0.005). No association was seen for genetically instrumented 25(OH)D with BMI, a finding that was confirmed using data from the GIANT consortium (p≥0.57 for both vitamin D scores).
Conclusions
On the basis of a bi-directional genetic approach that limits confounding, our study suggests that a higher BMI leads to lower 25(OH)D, while any effects of lower 25(OH)D increasing BMI are likely to be small. Population level interventions to reduce BMI are expected to decrease the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Obesity—having an unhealthy amount of body fat—is increasing worldwide. In the US, for example, a third of the adult population is now obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI, an indicator of body fat calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) of more than 30.0 kg/m2. Although there is a genetic contribution to obesity, people generally become obese by consuming food and drink that contains more energy than they need for their daily activities. Thus, obesity can be prevented by having a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Compared to people with a healthy weight, obese individuals have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and tend to die younger. They also have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, another increasingly common public health concern. Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones as well as other functions, is made in the skin after exposure to sunlight but can also be obtained through the diet and through supplements.
Why Was This Study Done?
Observational studies cannot prove that obesity causes vitamin D deficiency because obese individuals may share other characteristics that reduce their circulating 25-hydroxy vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels (referred to as confounding). Moreover, observational studies cannot indicate whether the larger vitamin D storage capacity of obese individuals (vitamin D is stored in fatty tissues) lowers their 25(OH)D levels or whether 25(OH)D levels influence fat accumulation (reverse causation). If obesity causes vitamin D deficiency, monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency might alleviate some of the adverse health effects of obesity. Conversely, if low vitamin D levels cause obesity, encouraging people to take vitamin D supplements might help to control the obesity epidemic. Here, the researchers use bi-directional “Mendelian randomization” to examine the direction and causality of the relationship between BMI and 25(OH)D. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the influence of a modifiable environmental exposure and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants do not change over time and are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. Thus, if a lower vitamin D status leads to obesity, genetic variants associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations should be associated with higher BMI, and if obesity leads to a lower vitamin D status, then genetic variants associated with higher BMI should be associated with lower 25(OH)D concentrations.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers created a “BMI allele score” based on 12 BMI-related gene variants and two “25(OH)D allele scores,” which are based on gene variants that affect either 25(OH)D synthesis or breakdown. Using information on up to 42,024 participants from 21 studies, the researchers showed that the BMI allele score was associated with both BMI and with 25(OH)D levels among the study participants. Based on this information, they calculated that each 10% increase in BMI will lead to a 4.2% decrease in 25(OH)D concentrations. By contrast, although both 25(OH)D allele scores were strongly associated with 25(OH)D levels, neither score was associated with BMI. This lack of an association between 25(OH)D allele scores and obesity was confirmed using data from more than 100,000 individuals involved in 46 studies that has been collected by the GIANT (Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits) consortium.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a higher BMI leads to a lower vitamin D status whereas any effects of low vitamin D status on BMI are likely to be small. That is, these findings provide evidence for obesity as a causal factor in the development of vitamin D deficiency but not for vitamin D deficiency as a causal factor in the development of obesity. These findings suggest that population-level interventions to reduce obesity should lead to a reduction in the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and highlight the importance of monitoring and treating vitamin D deficiency as a means of alleviating the adverse influences of obesity on health.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish); a data brief provides information about the vitamin D status of the US population
The World Health Organization provides information on obesity (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about obesity and a link to a personal story about losing weight; it also provides information about vitamin D
The International Obesity Taskforce provides information about the global obesity epidemic
The US Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.gov website provides a personal healthy eating plan; the Weight-control Information Network is an information service provided for the general public and health professionals by the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (in English and Spanish)
The US Office of Dietary Supplements provides information about vitamin D (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus has links to further information about obesity and about vitamin D (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)
Overview and details of the collaborative large-scale genetic association study (D-CarDia) provide information about vitamin D and the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and related traits
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383
PMCID: PMC3564800  PMID: 23393431
4.  Exploring the Developmental Overnutrition Hypothesis Using Parental–Offspring Associations and FTO as an Instrumental Variable 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e33.
Background
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).
Conclusions
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
Background.
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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050033.
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
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050033
PMCID: PMC2265763  PMID: 18336062
5.  Combining Information from Common Type 2 Diabetes Risk Polymorphisms Improves Disease Prediction 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e374.
Background
A limited number of studies have assessed the risk of common diseases when combining information from several predisposing polymorphisms. In most cases, individual polymorphisms only moderately increase risk (~20%), and they are thought to be unhelpful in assessing individuals' risk clinically. The value of analyzing multiple alleles simultaneously is not well studied. This is often because, for any given disease, very few common risk alleles have been confirmed.
Methods and Findings
Three common variants (Lys23 of KCNJ11, Pro12 of PPARG, and the T allele at rs7903146 of TCF7L2) have been shown to predispose to type 2 diabetes mellitus across many large studies. Risk allele frequencies ranged from 0.30 to 0.88 in controls. To assess the combined effect of multiple susceptibility alleles, we genotyped these variants in a large case-control study (3,668 controls versus 2,409 cases). Individual allele odds ratios (ORs) ranged from 1.14 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05 to 1.23) to 1.48 (95% CI, 1.36 to 1.60). We found no evidence of gene-gene interaction, and the risks of multiple alleles were consistent with a multiplicative model. Each additional risk allele increased the odds of type 2 diabetes by 1.28 (95% CI, 1.21 to 1.35) times. Participants with all six risk alleles had an OR of 5.71 (95% CI, 1.15 to 28.3) compared to those with no risk alleles. The 8.1% of participants that were double-homozygous for the risk alleles at TCF7L2 and Pro12Ala had an OR of 3.16 (95% CI, 2.22 to 4.50), compared to 4.3% with no TCF7L2 risk alleles and either no or one Glu23Lys or Pro12Ala risk alleles.
Conclusions
Combining information from several known common risk polymorphisms allows the identification of population subgroups with markedly differing risks of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those obtained using single polymorphisms. This approach may have a role in future preventative measures for common, polygenic diseases.
Combining information from several known common risk polymorphisms allows the identification of subgroups of the population with markedly differing risks of developing type 2 diabetes.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Diabetes is an important and increasingly common global health problem; the World Health Organization has estimated that about 170 million people currently have diabetes worldwide. One particular form, type 2 diabetes, develops when cells in the body become unable to respond to a hormone called insulin. Insulin is normally released by the pancreas and controls the ability of body cells to take in glucose (sugar). Therefore, when cells become insensitive to insulin as in people with type 2 diabetes, glucose levels in the body are not well controlled and may become dangerously high in the blood. These high levels can have long-term damaging effects on various organs in the body, particularly the eyes, nerves, heart, and kidneys. There are many different factors that affect whether someone is likely to develop type 2 diabetes. These factors can be broadly grouped into two categories: environmental and genetic. Environmental factors such as obesity, a diet high in sugar, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes in later life. Genetically, a number of variants in many different genes may affect the risk of developing the disease. Generally, these gene variants are common in human populations but each gene variant only mildly increases the risk that a person possessing it will get type 2 diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
The investigators performing this study wanted to understand how different gene variants combine to affect an individual's risk of getting type 2 diabetes. That is, if a person carries many different variants, does their overall risk increase a lot or only a little?
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
First, the researchers surveyed the published reports to identify those gene variants for which there was strong evidence of an association with type 2 diabetes. They found mutations in three genes that had been shown reproducibly to be associated with type 2 diabetes in different studies: PPARG (whose product is involved in regulation of fat tissue), KCNJ11 (whose product is involved in insulin production), and TCF7L2 (whose product is thought to be involved in controlling sugar levels). Then, they compared two groups of white people in the UK: 2,409 people with type 2 diabetes (“cases”), and 3,668 people from the general population (“controls”). The researchers compared the two groups to see which individuals possessed which gene variants, and did statistical testing to work out to what extent having particular combinations of the gene variants affected an individual's chance of being a “case” versus a “control.” Their results showed that in the groups studied, having an ever-increasing number of gene variants increased the risk of developing diabetes. The risk that someone with none of the gene variants would develop type 2 diabetes was about 2%, while the chance for someone with all gene variants was about10%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results show that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is greater if an individual possesses all of the gene variants that were examined in this study. The analysis also suggests that using information on all three variants, rather than just one, is likely to be more accurate in predicting future risk. How this genetic information should be used alongside other well-known preventative measures such as altered lifestyle requires further study.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030374.
NHS Direct patient information on diabetes
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse information on type 2 diabetes
World Health Organization Diabetes Programme
Centers for Disease ControlDiabetes Public Health Resource
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030374
PMCID: PMC1584415  PMID: 17020404

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