Ethnic and population differences in the genetic predisposition to human obesity

Obes Rev. 2018 Jan;19(1):62-80. doi: 10.1111/obr.12604. Epub 2017 Oct 10.


Obesity rates have escalated to the point of a global pandemic with varying prevalence across ethnic groups. These differences are partially explained by lifestyle factors in addition to genetic predisposition to obesity. This review provides a comprehensive examination of the ethnic differences in the genetic architecture of obesity. Using examples from evolution, heritability, admixture, monogenic and polygenic studies of obesity, we provide explanations for ethnic differences in the prevalence of obesity. The debate over definitions of race and ethnicity, the advantages and limitations of multi-ethnic studies and future directions of research are also discussed. Multi-ethnic studies have great potential to provide a better understanding of ethnic differences in the prevalence of obesity that may result in more targeted and personalized obesity treatments.

Keywords: ethnic diversity; genetic susceptibility; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alstrom Syndrome / ethnology
  • Alstrom Syndrome / genetics
  • Bardet-Biedl Syndrome / ethnology
  • Bardet-Biedl Syndrome / genetics
  • Developmental Disabilities / ethnology
  • Developmental Disabilities / genetics
  • Ethnicity / genetics*
  • Fingers / abnormalities
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / ethnology
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Life Style
  • Microcephaly / ethnology
  • Microcephaly / genetics
  • Multifactorial Inheritance
  • Muscle Hypotonia / ethnology
  • Muscle Hypotonia / genetics
  • Myopia / ethnology
  • Myopia / genetics
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome / ethnology
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome / genetics
  • Prevalence
  • Retinal Degeneration

Supplementary concepts

  • Cohen syndrome