Healthy living * Weight loss

Apple or pear-shaped is partly down to genes

Apple or pear-shaped, partly down to genes Scientists pinpoint genes that influence body shape

Whether you are apple or pear shaped is partly down to your genes, particularly if you are a woman, scientists have discovered.

A team of scientists, led by researchers at Oxford University and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, have identified 13 new sets of genes which influence where fat is stored on the body - on the hips and thighs or around the abdomen.

Past research has shown that how we store fat can affect our health. Fat stored around the waist (apple shaped) is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, whereas fat stored on the hips and thighs (pear-shaped) is thought to be offer some protection against high blood pressure and diabetes.

In the study, the scientists examined DNA data from more than 77,000 people throughout Europe, looking for variations in the genetic code linked with body fat distribution.

They discovered 14 gene variations associated with fat storage on the hips and thighs. Seven of the genetic variations have a much stronger effect in women than in men, which helps explain some of the difference in fat storage between the sexes.

Although the gene variations identified probably only account for around one per cent of the variation in waist-to-hip ratios in the population, they help to shed light on specific biological mechanisms involved in regulating where the body stores fat.

The same DNA regions identified by the scientists are also involved in regulating cholesterol, triglyceride levels, insulin and insulin resistance.

Dr Cecilia Lindgren, senior researcher of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, said: "By finding genes that have an important role in influencing whether we are apple shaped or pear shaped, and the ways in which that differs between men and women, we hope to home in on the crucial underlying biological processes.

"Understanding biology through finding genes is just a first step in a long journey towards treatment, but it is a vital one.

"As efforts to tackle obesity through changes in lifestyle or by different treatment options have proved extremely challenging, the potential to alter patterns of fat distribution may offer an alternative for future drug discovery."

This article was published on Mon 11 October 2010

Image © Celso Pupo -

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