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Genetics and Social Factors Linked to Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

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Genetics and Social Factors Linked to Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity

A person’s genetic makeup and socioeconomic status both play an independent role in the risk of developing both type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to the results of a study presented virtually at the 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

As noted in an article on the presentation at MedPage Today, the study was based on data from 27,224 adults of European ancestry who took part in a large general health study in Massachusetts called the Mass General Brigham Biobank. The average age of participants was about 61. Genetic risk for type 2 diabetes was determined based on electronic health record data and an analysis of blood samples taken as part of the Biobank study. Socioeconomic status was based on available data for education level, income, and employment status. Participants were classified as having type 2 diabetes or obesity based on a computer-based analysis of their health data, which was meant to detect these conditions even without an official diagnosis.

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Genes, socioeconomic risk factors tied to type 2 and obesity risk

When participants were divided into five groups of equal size (known as quintiles) based on their genetic or socioeconomic risk level for either type 2 diabetes or obesity, those in the top group based on genetic risk were 5.7 times as likely to have type 2 diabetes as those in the bottom group, and 4.8 times as likely to obesity. Adding socioeconomic status to the mix increased these risks even further — participants who were in the top group based on both genetic risk and socioeconomic risk were 15.7 times as likely to have type 2 diabetes as those in the bottom group for both types of risk, and 9.7 times as likely to have obesity.

But researchers didn’t find any interaction between genetic and socioeconomic risks for either diabetes or obesity. In other words, having a higher income or education level didn’t do anything to reduce the risk for diabetes or obesity based on genetic risk factors, and having “good genes” for diabetes or obesity risk didn’t reduce the actual risk or developing these conditions based on having a low income or education level. Other factors that were found to increase the risk for both type 2 diabetes and obesity included older age and being a male, with men 63% more likely to have diabetes and 15% more likely to have obesity — much smaller risk increases than those linked to genetic and socioeconomic factors.

One important limitation of this study — but also a strength in a sense — is that all of its participants were white. This was done to eliminate the possibility of racial discrimination or genetic differences linked to certain ethnic backgrounds having an impact on the results, but it also means that the results may not apply to other racial or ethnic groups. The researchers are currently working on performing a similar analysis of Black and Hispanic participants in the Biobank study, and will eventually complete a combined analysis of all racial and ethnic groups. The researchers decided to initially limit their analysis to white participants because they made up by far the largest racial or ethnic group in the Biobank, and because the available tools to look at genetic risk for diabetes are more reliable for this population — the result of past studies on genetic risk also being based largely on white participants.

Want to learn more about type 2 diabetes? Read “Type 2 Diabetes Diagnostic Tests,” “Type 2 Diabetes and a Healthy Family Lifestyle” and “Prediabetes: What to Know.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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