Obesity is a chronic condition associated with increased morbidity and mortality and is a risk factor for a number of other diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obesity confers an enormous, costly burden on both individuals and public health more broadly. Body fat distribution is a heritable trait and a well-established predictor of adverse metabolic outcomes. Body fat distribution is distinct from overall obesity in measurement, but studies of body fat distribution can yield insights into the risk factors for and causes of overall obesity. Sexual dimorphism in body fat distribution is present throughout life. Though sexual dimorphism is subtle in early stages of life, it is attenuated in puberty and during menopause. This phenomenon could be, at least in part, due to the influence of sex hormones on the trait. Findings from recent large genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for various measures of body fat distribution (including waist-to-hip ratio, hip or waist circumference, trunk fat percentage and the ratio of android and gynoid fat percentage) emphasize the strong sexual dimorphism in the genetic regulation of fat distribution traits. Importantly, sexual dimorphism is not observed for overall obesity (as assessed by body mass index or total fat percentage). Notably, the genetic loci associated with body fat distribution, which show sexual dimorphism, are located near genes that are expressed in adipose tissues and/or adipose cells. Considering the epidemiological and genetic evidence, sexual dimorphism is a prominent feature of body fat distribution. Research that specifically focuses on sexual dimorphism in fat distribution can provide novel insights into human physiology and into the development of obesity and its comorbidities, as well as yield biological clues that will aid in the improvement of disease prevention and treatment.

Original publication

DOI

10.1042/BSR20160184

Type

Journal article

Journal

Biosci Rep

Publication Date

28/02/2017

Volume

37

Keywords

genetics, obesity, sex