To do so, they examined the health records of more than 450,000 individuals who allowed their data to be included in a biobank in the U.K. The documents contained blood samples, questionnaires on diet and genetic information.
After analyzing the results, they found that people with a gene variation of FGF21 have less body fat than others. Previous studies suggest that people with this particular gene variation crave and eat more sugary foods than others.
“It sort of contradicts common intuition that people who eat more sugar should have less body fat,” coauthor Niels Grarup said in a statement. “But it is important to remember that we are only studying this specific genetic variation and trying to find connections to the rest of the body. This is just a small piece of the puzzle describing the connection between diet and sugar intake and the risk of obesity and diabetes.”
They also noted that those with a “genetic sweet tooth” have a slightly higher hypertension risk and also more fat around the waist than hips. This body type, known as the apple shape, can increase heart attack risk, especially among women.
“Now that so many people are involved in the study, it gives our conclusions a certain robustness. Even though the difference in the amount of body fat or blood pressure level is only minor depending on whether or not the person has this genetic variation or not, we are very confident that the results are accurate,” Grarup said.
Scientists now hope to use their newfound knowledge for future investigations. They want to develop treatment for obesity and diabetes that will specifically target FGF21.