Body shape graphicWhen you put on weight, do the pounds show up at your waistline or on your hips? The answer could have long-term implications for your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and Type 2 diabetes.

A recent study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that individuals who have a genetic disposition for storing fat deposits primarily at their waistline (known as abdominal adiposity) were at a higher risk of developing both diabetes and CHD when compared to individuals who store fat primarily in their hips and thighs.

The large-scale study analyzed the genetic information from more than 400,000 individuals from the UK Biobank project. Body type was calculated using 48 gene variants associated with waist-to-hip ratio, and adjusted for body mass index.

The team not only found that individuals who stored fat primarily at the waist had an increased risk of developing both conditions, but also were able to confirm that this risk was independent of lifestyle-related risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking.

The results of the study should encourage doctors to account for body type when assessing a patient’s risk for developing these conditions, and could spur the development of new drugs that could lower that risk by altering the body’s fat distribution pathways.

Connor Edmin, DPhil, of the Center for Genomic Medicine and the Cardiology Division is lead author of the study and Sekar Kathiresan, MD, director of the Center for Genomic Medicine, is senior author.