15 February 2017

Belly fat may raise risk of diabetes

Researchers have found that people who are genetically predisposed to an apple-shaped body type, could face a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

People who are genetically predisposed to storing belly fat, or having an apple-shaped body type, could face a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, researchers said.

According to the International Diabetes Foundation there were 2.28 million cases of diabetes in South Africa in 2015.

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests a person's genetic makeup may cause health problems down the road.

"People vary in their distribution of body fat – some put fat in their belly, which we call abdominal adiposity, and some in their hips and thighs," said senior author Sekar Kathiresan, associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Link between belly fat and diabetes proven

"We tested whether genetic predisposition to abdominal adiposity was associated with the risk for type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease and found that the answer was a firm 'yes'."

Previous observational studies have uncovered a link between belly fat and type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but fell short of proving cause and effect.

To investigate further, researchers examined six studies conducted from 2007 to 2015, including some 400,000 participants whose genomes were analysed.

Genetics also play a role

Previous research had identified 48 gene variants associated with waist-to-hip ratio, resulting in a genetic risk score.

They found that people with certain genes that predisposed them to higher waist-to-hip ratio also had higher lipids, insulin, glucose and systolic blood pressure, as well as a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"These results illustrate the power of using genetics as a method of determining the effects of a characteristic like abdominal adiposity on cardiometabolic outcomes," said lead author Connor Emdin, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Since researchers did not find any links between body type, genetic risk score and confounding factors such as diet and smoking, that "provides strong evidence that abdominal adiposity itself contributes to causing type 2 diabetes and heart disease," he added.

Emdin said the findings could one day lead to the development of drugs designed to target belly fat, and perhaps lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Fat not the only cause

A new study by the University of Florida is however challenging the notion that type 2 diabetes is a disease of the overweight and obese. In fact, the study authors report that in people over 45, one-third of those at a healthy weight have prediabetes.

"Being at a healthy weight may not necessarily be healthy," said the study's lead author, Arch Mainous, a professor of health services research management and policy at the University of Florida. This means that the medical fraternity should not just be looking for diabetes in the overweight and obese. 

Read More:

Diabetes: dieting tips

Healthy back-to-school snacks for kids with diabetes

6 diabetes myths debunked


Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules