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Big hips, big belly? It's in your genes, Joslin-led study shows

Boston -- Do you have big hips or a "beer" belly? Are you "apple-shaped" or "pear-shaped"? It makes a difference, since we know that abdominal obesity is linked to diabetes and many other metabolic conditions, i.e., the metabolic syndrome. What's new is that, according to a new study led by researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, both obesity and body shape seem to be controlled by important genes that are part of the mechanisms regulating normal development.

"By looking at your genes, we can tell how fat you are and how your body fat will be distributed," said lead researcher C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., President of Joslin and the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In lower animals, he added, it's long been known that genes play an important role in the body's development. "Genes tell the body where the head goes and where the tail goes, what goes on the front and what goes on the back. In insects, genes determine if the wings go on the front or back and whether they will be large or small. So it's not surprising that in humans, genes may determine how many fat cells we have and where they are located," he said.

Together with Joslin post-doctoral fellow Stephane Gesta, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Leipzig in Germany, the researchers for the first time used gene chips as a tool to understand what genes might control the development of fat inside the abdomen versus fat under the skin. The resulting study will be published online today, April 10, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When it comes to obesity, the location of body fat can significantly impact one's risk for developing serious chronic diseases. Obesity, which is reaching worldwide epidemic proportions, is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other metabolic disorders. Doctors have long recognized that people who are "apple-shaped" -- with their fat concentrated in the
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