Abdominal fat has been shown to be an important risk factor for many chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer. The objective of this study was to provide evidence for a major gene influence on the ratio of waist to hip circumference (WHR), a measurement commonly used in large scale studies to indicate the presence of abdominal fat. Segregation analysis was conducted on three subsets of families from the Minnesota Breast Cancer Family Study. One analysis was conducted among families with WHR measurements on all women. Two additional analyses were conducted on subsets of women stratified on menopausal status. Multiple regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with WHR expressed as a continuous trait. Complex segregation analyses were performed on the continuous trait of WHR and the covariates identified in the regression analysis. In the analysis of all women, all hypotheses were rejected. Among premenopausal women, the environmental hypothesis with no heterogeneity between generations fit the data best (P = 0.85). However, among postmenopausal women, the requirements for conclusion of the presence of a major gene were met. All non-Mendelian hypotheses were rejected (P < 0.0001), but the additive hypothesis was not rejected (P = 0.19) and provided the best fit to the data. The putative major gene identified by this model accounted for 42% of total phenotypic variance in WHR among these postmenopausal women. The allele for high WHR had a frequency of 27%. These findings support the hypothesis that the distribution of abdominal fat in postmenopausal women is under genetic control.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.