Recent research from the MRC Epidemiology Unit has found that public health strategies aimed at tackling obesity through lifestyle interventions are more appropriate for preventing type 2 diabetes than targeted changes based on an individual’s genetic risk.
Lifestyle interventions can reduce the risk of developing diabetes in high-risk individuals by 50%; however, whether there is value in targeted lifestyle interventions according to a person’s genetic susceptibility is unclear.
The research team studied 12,403 incident cases of type 2 diabetes from the 340,234 person European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort and a further control subset of 16,154 participants. The researchers calculated a genetic risk score for type 2 diabetes for these individuals based on which of 49 known genetic variants for the disease each person carried, and arranged the individuals into four equally-sized groups from lowest to highest genetic risk score. They then examined the combined effects of the genetic score and lifestyle factors on the development of diabetes.
The study found that obese individuals had the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes regardless of their genetic risk score, emphasising the central role of lifestyle in the development of the disease.
Professor Nick Wareham (MRC Epidemiology Unit) added, “We need effective strategies in place if we are going to stem the rapid rise in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes and the burden this places on our health systems. Our research suggests that focusing on tackling the lifestyle factors that lead to obesity at a population level will have a much greater impact than tailoring prevention strategies according to an individual’s genetic risk.”
The results of the study, which was mainly funded by the European Commission under its Framework 6 programme, are published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.