Center for Alaska Native Health Research
Institute of Arctic Biology
205 Arctic Health Research Building


Phone: 907-474-5528

1-888-470-5576 toll-free within Alaska 

Fax: 907-474-5700

Genetics of Obesity

Project location: Rural communities in southwest Alaska

Category: Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Obesity is a disease that can increase peoples' risk for other diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other diseases. Some ethnic minorities are affected more than other groups of people. Genetic and environmental factors are known to be important in the development of obesity and related diseases, yet the interactions between genetic variants and environmental risk factors like diet and activity are poorly understood despite their fundamental importance. The objective of this study is to investigate gene-environment interactions that influence protection and risk for obesity and other related diseases in Yup'ik people.

Dried Salmon

Yup'ik people have traditionally eaten a diet rich in foods from the ocean that include healthy fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs. Historically, Yup'ik people were also extremely active, but modernization has resulted in dramatic differences in diet and activity levels among individuals. We seek to identify genetic variants that contribute to obesity and diabetes, and that are modified by dietary PUFAs.

Since 2003, we have recruited >1,800 Yup'ik people from Southwest Alaska to participate in this study. Over half of our participants have volunteered more than once, so we have been able to investigate changes in health over time. We have observed that people adhering to a subsistence diet rich in PUFAs seem to be protected from type 2 diabetes, and that younger people consume less PUFAs than older adults. We have also observed that people who stay busy and move a lot, have healthier body weight, less body fat, healthier blood pressure and blood lipid levels when compared to people who move less during the day. Although we have identified some genetic variants that increase or decrease risk for obesity, we have still not identified the most important genetic variants. We are currently investigating how a traditional diet rich in PUFAs may modify the genome in ways that can be passed down to future generations and protect them from disease. This type of genetic variation is called "Epigenetics."

CANHR Project Staff: Bert Boyer, Scarlett Hopkins, Jynene Black, Eliza Orr, Diane O'Brien, and Salena Bias

University of Alabama at Birmingham Project Staff: Hemant Tiwari, Howard Wiener, Stella Aslibekyan and David Allison.

HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology Project Staff: Devin Absher

Funded by: NIH NIDDK R01 DK074842

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