Childhood obesity risk increased by newly-discovered genetic mutations
Three new genetic variations that increase the risk of obesity are revealed in a new study, published in the journal Nature Genetics.
The authors suggest that if each acted independently, these variants could be responsible for up to 50% of cases of severe obesity.
Together with existing research, the new findings should ultimately provide the tools to predict which young children are at risk of becoming obese. Health professionals could then intervene to help such children before they develop weight problems, say the researchers from Imperial College London, the French National Research Institute CNRS and other international institutions.
In the UK, one four or five year old in every ten is obese, according to the Department of Health's National Child Measurement Programme 2007/08.
For today's ten-year study, scientists looked at the genetic make-up of obese children under six and morbidly obese adults, most of whom had been obese since childhood or adolescence, and compared this with age matched people of normal weight.
The study reveals three previously unidentified genetic variations that increase the risk of severe obesity significantly, giving new insight into the reasons why some people become obese and others do not.
Further research is needed to determine whether the gene variants are acting independently, but if they are, then together these three new variations may account for up to half of all cases of severe adult and child obesity.
Professor Philippe Froguel, the corresponding author of the study from the Department of Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London, said:
"Understanding the genetic basis of obesity is the first step towards helping these children. Once we identify the genes responsible, we can develop ways to screen children to find out who is most at risk of becoming obese. Hopefully we can then intervene with measures such as behavioural therapy, to make sure a child forms healthy eating habits and does not develop a weight problem."