Major genetic study identifies clearest link yet to obesity risk

Scientists have identified the most clear genetic link yet to obesity in the general population as part of a major study of diseases funded by the Wellcome Trust, the UK's largest medical research charity. People with two copies of a particular gene variant have a 70% higher risk of being obese than those with no copies.

Obesity is a major cause of disease, associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It is typically measured using body mass index (BMI). As a result of reduced physical activity and increased food consumption, the prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide. According to the 2001 Health Survey for England, over a fifth of males and a similar proportion of females aged 16 and over in England were classified as obese. Half of men and a third of women were classified as overweight.

Scientists from the Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, and the University of Oxford first identified a genetic link to obesity through a genome-wide study of 2,000 people with type 2 diabetes and 3,000 controls. This study was part of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, one of the biggest projects ever undertaken to identify the genetic variations that may predispose people to or protect them from major diseases. Through this genome-wide study, the researchers identified a strong association between an increase in BMI and a variation, or "allele", of the gene FTO. Their findings are published online today in the journal Science.

The researchers then tested a further 37,000 samples for this gene from Bristol, Dundee and Exeter as well as a number of other regions in the UK and Finland.

The study found that people carrying one copy of the FTO allele have a 30% increased risk of being obese compared to a person with no copies. However, a person carrying two copies of the allele has a 70% increased risk of being obese, being on average 3kg heavier than a similar person with no copies. Amongs

Contact: Craig Brierley
Wellcome Trust

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