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‘BMI more powerful risk factor for diabetes than genetics’

London – Body mass index (BMI) is a more powerful risk factor for diabetes than genetics, said researchers, adding that losing weight could prevent or even reverse diabetes. Obesity is the main modifiable cause of type 2 diabetes, while genetic make-up may also identify individuals with a greater likelihood of developing the condition, the study presented at the ‘ESC Congress 2020’ conference revealed.

“Because we are born with our genes, it might be possible to pinpoint early in life who has a high chance of developing diabetes during their lifetime,” said study researcher Brian Ference from the University of Cambridge in the UK. “We conducted this study to find out if combining inherited risk with current body mass index (BMI) could identify people at the highest risk of developing diabetes,” Ference added. The study included 445,765 participants of the UK Biobank. The average age was 57.2 years and 54 per cent were women. According to the researchers, the inherited risk of diabetes was assessed using 6.9 million genes. Height and weight were measured at enrolment to calculate BMI. Participants were divided into five groups according to genetic risk of diabetes. They were also divided into five groups according to BMI.

Participants were followed-up until an average age of 65.2 years. During that period, 31,298 developed type 2 diabetes. The findings showed that those in the highest BMI group had an 11-fold increased risk of diabetes compared to participants in the lowest BMI group. The highest BMI group had a greater likelihood of developing diabetes than all other BMI groups, regardless of genetic risk.

“The findings indicate that BMI is a much more powerful risk factor for diabetes that genetic predisposition,” said Ference. The investigators then used statistical methods to estimate whether the likelihood of diabetes in people with a high BMI would be even greater if they were overweight for a long period of time. They found that the duration of elevated BMI did not have an impact on the risk of diabetes.

“This suggests that when people cross a certain BMI threshold, their chances of diabetes go up and stay at that same high-risk level regardless of how long they are overweight,” Ference said. He noted that it may also be possible to reverse diabetes by losing weight in the early stages before permanent damage occurs.

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