Researchers believe that where surplus fat is stored on the body could be genetically determined and have an impact on insulin resistance.
Where surplus fat is stored on people’s bodies, whether round their middle or round the liver, could be genetically determined, according to researchers.
The location of where extra fat is stored matters more than the amount when it comes to insulin resistance and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health conditions, including heart attacks and strokes.
A report recently published in Diabetes, compiled from studies by scientists across Europe, including at Brunel University London and the University of Exeter, found 14 new genetic variants that dictate where the body stores surplus fat.
Researchers were surprised to discover some genetic factors that increase obesity can work to lower metabolic risk.
Professor Alex Blakemore, a Geneticist at Brunel University London, said: “Where fat is stored is more important in terms of type 2 diabetes risk or other consequences than the actual amount of fat.
“There are some genetic factors that increase obesity, but paradoxically reduce metabolic risk. It is to do with where on the body the fat is stored. Directly under the skin is better than around the organs or especially, within the liver.”
Researchers looked at medical figures from the UK bio bank from more than 500,000 people aged between 37 and 73. They used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of these people’s waists to match where they stored extra fat with whether they showed signs of type 2 diabetes, heart attack and risk of stroke.
They found 14 genetic variations or changes in DNA molecule linked with higher BMI (body mass index) but lower risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease.
Their results showed that as they gain weight, people who carry these genetic factors store it safely under the skin, and so have less fat in their major organs such as the liver, pancreas and kidneys.
Dr Hanieh Yaghootkar, of the University of Exeter Medical School said: “There are many overweight or obese individuals who do not carry the expected metabolic disease risks associated with higher BMI. Meanwhile, some lean or normal weight individuals develop conditions like type 2 diabetes.
“Since a large proportion of many populations are overweight or obese, our findings will help understand the mechanisms that delay or protect overweight or obese individuals from developing adverse metabolic outcomes including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.”