Genetic association studies of obesity in Africa: a systematic review

Obes Rev. 2015 Mar;16(3):259-72. doi: 10.1111/obr.12260. Epub 2015 Feb 2.


Obesity is increasing in Africa, but the underlying genetic background largely remains unknown. We assessed existing evidence on genetic determinants of obesity among populations within Africa. MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched and the bibliographies of retrieved articles were examined. Included studies had to report on the association of a genetic marker with obesity indices and the presence/occurrence of obesity/obesity trait. Data were extracted on study design and characteristics, genetic determinants and effect estimates of associations with obesity indices. According to this data, over 300 polymorphisms in 42 genes have been studied in various population groups within Africa mostly through the candidate gene approach. Polymorphisms in genes such as ACE, ADIPOQ, ADRB2, AGRP, AR, CAPN10, CD36, C7orf31, DRD4, FTO, MC3R, MC4R, SGIP1 and LEP were found to be associated with various measures of obesity. Of the 36 polymorphisms previously validated by genome-wide association studies (GWAS) elsewhere, only FTO and MC4R polymorphisms showed significant associations with obesity in black South Africans, Nigerians and Ghanaians. However, these data are insufficient to establish the true nature of genetic susceptibility to obesity in populations within Africa. There has been recent progress in describing the genetic architecture of obesity among populations within Africa. This effort needs to be sustained via GWAS studies.

Keywords: Africa; body mass index; genetics; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • Blacks / genetics*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / epidemiology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Proteins / genetics*


  • Proteins
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • FTO protein, human