Lean people who carry a specific gene variant face a significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to researchers.
Type 2 diabetes is commonly associated with obesity, but genetics can too influence a person’s risk, as can stress and family history.
A team from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health report that the Transcription Factor-7 like 2 gene, also known as TCF7L2, was associated with type 2 diabetes regardless of body mass index (BMI).
TCF7L2 has previously been linked to type 2 diabetes, and researchers believe that people who have this gene variant, and are not considered overweight, could have an increased type 2 diabetes risk.
The study involved looking at health data of more than 9,000 Hispanic Latino adults, aged 21-76. The researchers took into account whether the participants had the TCF7L2 gene and noted their BMI.
There were significant increases in type 2 diabetes prevalence, independent of BMI, among those who possessed the gene. This association existed in both middle and late adulthood.
Senior author Professor Kari North said: “The counterintuitive discovery that some people are predisposed to both being thin and developing type 2 diabetes refocuses our attention on the need to collect data in diverse populations and across time.
“Hispanic Latinos are a diverse and understudied population, so this study is an important step forward for understanding their health risks.”
The findings are significant because at the moment, screenings for the gene are not carried out routinely by GPs. The research team believe their discovery shows that genetic information about the patient can help doctors tailor treatment for each individual.
Prof North added: “The other important takeaway from this study, which is especially timely now during National Hispanic Heritage Month, is that diverse populations, like Hispanics, who have ancestry from the Americas, Europe and African, are heterogeneous with distinct genetics.
“As we continue to develop initiatives around personalised medicine, we need to make sure that we are addressing the needs of all populations.”
The findings have been published in the BMC Obesity journal.
Editor’s note: People with a high risk of type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk by following a healthy, real-food diet and getting regular exercise. For more information, visit our award-winning Low Carb Program.

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