A study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City has found that the gene variants that affect the way a person gains weight may be linked to their risk of developing heart disease. This increased risk was found mostly in those who are “apple-shaped,” or carry their weight around their middle and stomach, as opposed to the hips and thighs.
While previous research has shown an association between excess body fat—specifically around the stomach—and an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, this is the first study to examine whether the gene variants that dictate a person’s body shape could be tied to these risks as well.
To conduct their study, researchers analyzed 48 gene variants that had been linked to waist-to-hip ratio and developed a risk score that was then applied to over 400,000 genetic profiles from volunteers. Genetic risk scores were corrected to take into account participants’ body mass index—or their weight in relation to height—in order to target the role of belly fat as a risk factor for serious disease.
The results showed that the size of a participant’s waist could raise their risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. With each deviation in waist-to-hip ratio, the risk of heart disease was increased by 46 percent, while the risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 77 percent. Those with abdominal obesity were also more prone to having higher blood sugar levels, higher blood pressure, and higher levels of triglycerides, which all contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Lead author Connor Emdin asserted that these results offer “pretty strong evidence” that carrying excess fat around the abdominal area directly contributes to the development of diabetes and heart disease.
This research adds merit to the idea that weight control, specifically preventing weight gain in the mid-section and shedding excess belly fat, can help to stave off heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Researchers suggest leading a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise to help lower your risk of these diseases.