Johnson et al., 2014. Modification of genetic influences on adiposity between 36 and 63 years of age by physical activity and smoking in the 1946 British Birth Cohort Study


Background: Previous studies reporting on the interaction between physical activity and genetic susceptibility on obesity have been cross-sectional and have not considered the potential influences of other lifestyle behaviours. The aim of this study was to examine modification of genetic influences on changes across age in adiposity during mid-adulthood by physical activity and smoking.

Methods: The sample comprised 2444 participants who were genotyped for 11 obesity variants and had body mass index (BMI), waist circumference-to-height ratio (WHtR), physical activity and smoking measures at 36, 43, 53 and 60–64 years of age. A genetic risk score (GRS) comprising the sum of risk alleles was computed. Structural equation models investigated modification of the longitudinal GRS associations by physical activity (active versus inactive) and smoking (non-smoker versus smoker), using a latent linear spline to summarise BMI or WHtR (multiplied by 100) at the age of 36 years and their subsequent rates of change over age.

Results: Physical activity at the age of 36 years attenuated the GRS associations with BMI and WHtR at the same age (P-interaction 0.009 and 0.004, respectively). Further, physical activity at the age of 53 years attenuated the GRS association with rate of change in BMI between 53 and 63 years of age (by 0.012 kg m−2 per year (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.001, 0.024), P-interaction 0.004). Conversely, smoking at the age of 43 years showed a trend towards augmenting the GRS association with rate of change in WHtR between 43 and 63 years of age (by 0.012 (95% CI: 0.001, 0.026), P-interaction 0.07). Estimated GRS effect sizes were lowest at all ages in the healthiest group (e.g., active non-smokers).

Conclusions: Healthy lifestyle behaviours appeared to attenuate the genetic influence on changes across age in BMI and central adiposity during mid-adulthood. An active lifestyle and not smoking may have additive effects on reducing the genetic susceptibility to obesity in adults.