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Genetics and Epigenetics

GWAS for BMI: a treasure trove of fundamental insights into the genetic basis of obesity

International Journal of Obesity (2018) | Download Citation


Muller et al. [1] have provided a strong critique of the Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) of body-mass index (BMI), arguing that the GWAS approach for the study of BMI is flawed, and has provided us with few biological insights. They suggest that what is needed instead is a new start, involving GWAS for more complex energy balance related traits. In this invited counter-point, we highlight the substantial advances that have occurred in the obesity field, directly stimulated by the GWAS of BMI. We agree that GWAS for BMI is not perfect, but consider that the best route forward for additional discoveries will likely be to expand the search for common and rare variants linked to BMI and other easily obtained measures of obesity, rather than attempting to perform new, much smaller GWAS for energy balance traits that are complex and expensive to measure. For GWAS in general, we emphasise that the power from increasing the sample size of a crude but easily measured phenotype outweighs the benefits of better phenotyping.

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest. JRS is supported by a Wolfson merit professorship from the UK Royal Society and a grant from the National Science Foundation of China microevolution program (NSFC 91731303). RJFL is supported by the NIH (R01DK110113, U01HG007417, R01DK101855, and R01DK107786). DBA is supported by NIH Grants R25DK099080 and R25HL124208. The opinions are those of the authors and not necessarily the NIH or any other organization.

Author information


  1. Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

    • J. R. Speakman
  2. Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

    • J. R. Speakman
  3. The Charles Bronfman Insititute for Personalized Medicine at Mount Sinai, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA

    • R. J. F. Loos
  4. Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science,Addenbrookes Treatment, Centre University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 OQQ, UK

    • S. O’Rahilly
  5. Division of Endocrinology and Center for Basic and Translational Research, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

    • J. N. Hirschhorn
  6. Broad institute, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • J. N. Hirschhorn
  7. School of Public Health, University of Indiana Bloomington, Bloomington, IN, USA

    • D. B. Allison


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