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School of Public Health News December 11, 2023

Doctor checking patient using stethoscope.The study, “Sex and Race Differences in Obesity-Related Genetic Susceptibility and Risk of Cardiometabolic Disease in   US Adults” utilizes genotyping data from the REGARDS Study, or Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke.

The findings indicate that much more work remains to better understand the complexities of the causes of obesity and their relationship to cardiovascular disease, or CVD, among men and women of different races. Because REGARDS analyzes older Black and White individuals, it allows researchers to learn more about potential mechanisms for racial disparities in the obesity and CVD links.

“This is one of the first papers published to use the genotyping data from REGARDS to this extent,” said Kathryn Kaiser, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Co-Investigator on this study. “This was an evolving idea because the basis for this project goes back to a small pilot study I received in 2011 when it was planned that REGARDS participants would be genotyped. Only recently were the data available to allow for this question to be investigated by Dr. Yu, which was ultimately developed for his dissertation project.”

REGARDS is a decades-long NIH-sponsored national study that seeks to understand why Southerners and Black Americans have higher rates of stroke and related diseases that affect brain health. The study is a public health resource that continues to support expanding areas of research, contributing to more than 120 funded ancillary studies and more than 650 publications. 

Kaiser believes that these results will inform further research in personalized medicine and hopes that the public will learn more about the complexities of obesity, the importance of the prevention and development of personalized treatments.

“This paper would not have been possible without the collaborative environment between the REGARDS Study and members of the Departments of Health Behavior and Epidemiology that ultimately helped probe an interdisciplinary question in a new way,” said Kaiser. Collaborators included Ryan Irvin, Ph.D. leading the genetic component, co-investigators and faculty Nicole Armstrong, Ph.D. (while as a Ph.D. student) and Gregory Pavela, Ph.D., as well as committee members Robin Lanzi, Ph.D. and Olivia Affuso, Ph.D. She notes that a major component was Yu’s work through the approval process to obtain the data and perform a complex series of analyses. Everyone brought different skills to the project. “I really appreciate everyone’s kind contribution to this research,” said Yu.

The researchers believe that the results of this study uniquely advance knowledge about one factor of the genetic basis of obesity, the FTO gene, and hopefully can lead to more targeted studies on the mechanisms for the biological basis and how it interacts with other factors to lead to differing outcomes. They hope it reveals a better understanding of the racial disparities that are not due to direct biological risk factors, but that reflect an interaction with the environment.

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