A Cambridge University study has looked at the genetic make-up of 200,000 people and found those who were unable to store excess fat safely in the body were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, even if they’re of a healthy weight.
Researchers said the participants, who had a variation in their genetic make-up, were less likely to deposit fat under the skin in the lower body.
They also discovered that those who had the highest number of genetic variants were more likely to store visceral fat – fat that is deposited around their main organs.
The findings suggest that even those who have a low body mass index (BMI) are also at risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, despite both conditions being more commonly associated with obesity.
Dr Luca Lotta, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: “Our study provides compelling evidence that a genetically-determined inability to store fat under the skin in the lower half of the body is linked to a higher risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
“Our results highlight the important biological role of peripheral fat tissue as a deposit of the surplus of energy due to overeating and lack of physical exercise.”
Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, from the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit and Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge, added: “We’ve long suspected that problems with fat storage might lead to its accumulation in other organs such as the liver, pancreas and muscles, where it causes insulin resistance and eventually diabetes, but the evidence for this has mostly come from rare forms of human lipodystrophy.
“Our study suggests that these processes also take place in the general population.”
The findings, which have been published in the Nature Genetics journal, showed that in the 20 per cent of the population with the highest number of these genetic variants, their risk of diabetes rose by 39 per cent compared to the 20 per cent of the population with the lowest genetic risk.
Understanding genetic susceptibility could help towards identifying which people with a healthy weight that are at greater risk of conditions such as fatty liver disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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