Research shows Type 2 diabetes associates with genetic risk factors and diet quality

Type 2 diabetes is connected to both genetic risk factors and diet quality; a healthy diet is related to decreasing diabetes risk at all levels of genetic risk. Jordi Merino of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues found this in a study of more than 35,000 US adults published on April 26th in PLOS Medicine.

Research shows Type 2 diabetes associates with genetic risk factors and diet quality
Interplay between genetics and diet on the development of type 2 diabetes. Image Credit: Jordi Merino, Merino J. et al., 2022, PLOS Medicine, CC-BY 4.0 (

Individual vulnerability to type 2 diabetes is known to be influenced by both genetic and lifestyle variables. Previous research has indicated that leading a healthy lifestyle is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes across genetic profiles, but it is unclear whether genetic profiles interact with lifestyle variables in part. Researchers reviewed data from three large cohort studies, which included 35,759 U.S. health professionals who were tracked for 902,386 person-years.

The researchers discovered that low diet quality, compared to high diet quality, was related to a 30% higher risk of type 2 diabetes (Pinteraction = 0.69), regardless of genetic risk. The relative risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 1.29 (95% CI 1.25-1.32, P<0.001) per standard deviation rise in the global polygenic score, a genetic risk measure, and by 1.13 (1.09-1.17, P<0.001) each 10-unit reduction in the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, a food quality measure.

Low diet quality and higher genetic risk had a combined correlation that was similar to the total of the risks for each component separately (Pinteraction = 0.30), indicating that the two factors are independent. However, one research limitation was that the cohort sample might not be generalizable to different groups.

This study provided evidence that the risk of type 2 diabetes attributed to increased genetic risk and low diet quality is similar to the sum of the risks associated with each factor alone. Such knowledge could serve to inform and design future strategies to advance the prevention of diabetes.”

Jordi Merino, Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

Journal reference:

Merino, J., et al. (2022) Polygenic scores, diet quality, and type 2 diabetes risk: An observational study among 35,759 adults from 3 US cohorts. PLOS Medicine.


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