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Original Investigation
December 25, 2018

Association of Genetic Variants Related to Gluteofemoral vs Abdominal Fat Distribution With Type 2 Diabetes, Coronary Disease, and Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Author Affiliations
  • 1MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 2MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 3Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 4Metabolic Research Laboratories, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
JAMA. 2018;320(24):2553-2563. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19329
Key Points

Question  Do genetic variants that are related to body fat distribution via lower levels of gluteofemoral (hip) fat or via higher levels of abdominal (waist) fat show associations with diabetes or coronary disease risk?

Findings  In genetic studies including up to 636 607 people, distinct polygenic risk scores for increased waist-to-hip ratio via lower gluteofemoral or via higher abdominal fat distribution were significantly associated with higher levels of cardiometabolic risk factors and higher risk for type 2 diabetes and coronary disease.

Meaning  Genetic mechanisms specifically linked to lower gluteofemoral or higher abdominal fat distribution may independently contribute to the relationship between body shape and cardiometabolic risk.

Abstract

Importance  Body fat distribution, usually measured using waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), is an important contributor to cardiometabolic disease independent of body mass index (BMI). Whether mechanisms that increase WHR via lower gluteofemoral (hip) or via higher abdominal (waist) fat distribution affect cardiometabolic risk is unknown.

Objective  To identify genetic variants associated with higher WHR specifically via lower gluteofemoral or higher abdominal fat distribution and estimate their association with cardiometabolic risk.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for WHR combined data from the UK Biobank cohort and summary statistics from previous GWAS (data collection: 2006-2018). Specific polygenic scores for higher WHR via lower gluteofemoral or via higher abdominal fat distribution were derived using WHR-associated genetic variants showing specific association with hip or waist circumference. Associations of polygenic scores with outcomes were estimated in 3 population-based cohorts, a case-cohort study, and summary statistics from 6 GWAS (data collection: 1991-2018).

Exposures  More than 2.4 million common genetic variants (GWAS); polygenic scores for higher WHR (follow-up analyses).

Main Outcomes and Measures  BMI-adjusted WHR and unadjusted WHR (GWAS); compartmental fat mass measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, type 2 diabetes, and coronary disease risk (follow-up analyses).

Results  Among 452 302 UK Biobank participants of European ancestry, the mean (SD) age was 57 (8) years and the mean (SD) WHR was 0.87 (0.09). In genome-wide analyses, 202 independent genetic variants were associated with higher BMI-adjusted WHR (n = 660 648) and unadjusted WHR (n = 663 598). In dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry analyses (n = 18 330), the hip- and waist-specific polygenic scores for higher WHR were specifically associated with lower gluteofemoral and higher abdominal fat, respectively. In follow-up analyses (n = 636 607), both polygenic scores were associated with higher blood pressure and triglyceride levels and higher risk of diabetes (waist-specific score: odds ratio [OR], 1.57 [95% CI, 1.34-1.83], absolute risk increase per 1000 participant-years [ARI], 4.4 [95% CI, 2.7-6.5], P < .001; hip-specific score: OR, 2.54 [95% CI, 2.17-2.96], ARI, 12.0 [95% CI, 9.1-15.3], P < .001) and coronary disease (waist-specific score: OR, 1.60 [95% CI, 1.39-1.84], ARI, 2.3 [95% CI, 1.5-3.3], P < .001; hip-specific score: OR, 1.76 [95% CI, 1.53-2.02], ARI, 3.0 [95% CI, 2.1-4.0], P < .001), per 1-SD increase in BMI-adjusted WHR.

Conclusions and Relevance  Distinct genetic mechanisms may be linked to gluteofemoral and abdominal fat distribution that are the basis for the calculation of the WHR. These findings may improve risk assessment and treatment of diabetes and coronary disease.

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