What’s the origin of the problem of being fat?

This 2016 UK human study attempted to replicate the DNA methylation and adiposity associations found by studies on a long-term longitudinal UK cohort:

“We tested for replication of associations between previously identified CpG sites at HIF3A [the hypoxia inducible factor 3 alpha subunit gene] and adiposity in ∼1,000 mother-offspring pairs from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.”

The researchers had sufficient data to test the unidirectional and causal findings of previous studies:

“Availability of methylation and adiposity measures at multiple time points, as well as genetic data, allowed us to assess the temporal associations between adiposity and methylation and to make inferences regarding causality and directionality.”

The analyses didn’t replicate the previous studies’ findings, and a new finding was indicated:

“Our results were discordant with those expected if HIF3A methylation has a causal effect on BMI [body mass index, derived from height and weight] and provided more evidence for causality in the reverse direction i.e. an effect of BMI on HIF3A methylation.

These results are based on robust evidence from longitudinal analyses and were also partially supported by Mendelian randomization analysis, although this latter analysis was underpowered to detect a causal effect of BMI on HIF3A methylation.

Our results also highlight an apparent long-lasting inter-generational influence of maternal BMI on offspring methylation at this locus, which may confound associations between own [offspring] adiposity and HIF3A methylation.”


A person’s parents contributed all of their genetic material and the prenatal environment, and usually almost all of their postnatal and childhood development environment. If a person has a health problem that may have genetic and developmental origins, this is where to look for causes and preventive actions.

That these distant causes can no longer be addressed is a hidden assumption of research and treatment of effects of health problems. Aren’t such assumptions testable here in 2016?

http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2016/02/01/db15-0996.long (pdf) “DNA methylation and body mass index: investigating identified methylation sites at HIF3A in a causal framework”

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