Obesity and African-American Ancestry

Published Online: Thursday, May 1, 2003

A new study published in the March 2003 edition of Diabetes examined the disproportionate occurrence of diabetes among African Americans, and the results suggest that there may be a genetic component to this major public health concern.

Researchers analyzed blood samples of 125 youngsters between the ages of 5 and 16, looking for almost 2 dozen genetic markers that have been linked with African ancestry. (None of the children actually had diabetes.) They also analyzed insulin sensitivity.

The study showed that the more of these genetic markers a child had, the more likely the youngster was to have decreased sensitivity to insulin. The investigators did not identify any specific gene that predisposes people to diabetes, and they noted that having the genetic markers identified in the study does not necessarily mean that a person will develop diabetes. In fact, because the disease and obesity are uncommon in Africa, the study suggests that it may be the combination of African ancestry and obesity that is responsible for the increased risk of diabetes among blacks.

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