Epigenetics is the study of how our behaviors and experiences can actually change our DNA, allowing us to pass on new traits to future generations. Recently, researchers revealed that obesity is able to cause epigenetic changes to our DNA which could have adverse health consequences for our future offspring.

In what is being called the biggest study yet on the effect of body mass index (BMI) on DNA, researchers uncovered that significant changes were found in the expression of genes responsible for lipid metabolism and substrate transport and in gene loci related to inflammation in the DNA of individuals with high BMIs. Ultimately, the team was able to identify epigenetic markers that could predict the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Read: Genetics Is Not As Cut-And-Dry As We Once Thought, Thanks To Epigenetics

"Our results allow new insights into which signaling pathways are influenced by obesity", said Christian Gieger, a researcher involved in the study, in a recent statement. "We hope that this will lead to new strategies for predicting and possibly preventing type 2 diabetes and other consequences of being overweight."

For the study, the team looked at blood samples of over 10,000 women and men from Europe. A large proportion of these were inhabitants of London of Indian ancestry, who are genetically at high risk for obesity and metabolic diseases. In 5,387 samples the research team identified 207 gene loci that were epigenetically altered dependent on the BMI. They then tested these candidate loci in blood samples of an additional 4,874 subjects and were able to confirm 187 of these. What’s more, the team was able to indicate that the changes were predominantly a consequence of being overweight and not the cause.

According to the team, the findings are particularly important as an estimated one and a half billion people throughout the world are overweight. However, while the results may sound dire, the team hope their findings could lead to better ways at identifying those most at risk of developing diabetes, in help them make changes in their lifestyle to ensure they do not go on to develop this condition.

Source: Wahl S, Drong A, Lehne B, et al. Epigenome-wide association study of body mass index, and the adverse outcomes of adiposity. Nature. 2016

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