Scientists have slammed previous studies on belly fat increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes after finding it can protect some people from developing the condition.

An investigation by the University of Virginia Health System has found that naturally occurring variations in our genes can trigger some individuals to hold fat around their waist but it can also protect them from type 2 diabetes.

The ‘surprising finding’ could transform obesity care as weight loss professionals would be able to prioritise treating people without the protective gene variants before those with them.

Lead author Dr Mete Civelek said: “There is a growing body of evidence for metabolically healthy obesity. In this condition, people who would normally be at risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes because they are obese are actually protected from adverse effects of their obesity.

“In our study, we found a genetic link that may explain how this occurs in certain individuals. Understanding various forms of obesity is important to tailor treatments for individuals who are at high risk for adverse effects of obesity.”

People with abdominal obesity are usually more at risk of developing metabolic syndrome, research shows.

However, this new research has found that an individual’s genetics can lead people to good health.

Joint author Yonathan Aberra said: “We found that among the hundreds of regions in our genomes which increase our propensity to accumulate excess fat in our abdomens, there are five which have an unexpected role. To our surprise, these five regions decrease an individual’s risk for type 2 diabetes.”

According to the researchers, this finding could lead to new and better treatments for metabolic syndrome.

Dr Civelek noted: “We now need to expand our studies in more women and people from different genetic ancestries to identify even more genes that underlie the metabolically health obesity phenomenon.

“We plan to build on our findings to perform more experiments to potentially identify a therapeutic target.”

The study has been published in the journal eLife.

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