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Clues to obesity genes found

10th April 2012

International scientists have found two key genetic areas linked to childhood obesity, suggesting that there is at least some inherited component that explains why some people put on weight more easily than others.


The researchers, who included a team at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, carried out a genome-wide meta-analysis which found two genetic factors that were common to all obese children in the study.

While obesity, including the recent epidemic in richer countries, is often blamed on eating too much and exercising too little, researchers have now confirmed that our genes are at least partially to blame.

Philidelphia researcher Struan Grant and colleagues, writing in the online edition of Nature Genetics, said they had pinpointed two new genetic variants which previously had never been linked to obesity.

Grant said the research had confirmed that obesity was not all about people's lifestyle choices, and that it was possible to find a "genetic signature" for childhood obesity.

The researchers chose to study children because there was less likelihood that their obesity was caused by a lifetime of over-indulgence.

But Grant said that the findings would still not be enough to explain the huge rise in childhood obesity in recent decades, because human genetics had not changed during that time period.

He said further research would be needed to investigate how genetics interacted with a child's environment.

But childhood obesity experts said that while researchers now knew more, clinical advice to parents and children would still be to eat more healthily and to get plenty of exercise.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City said the study, in which he had no part, had not provided a magic bullet, and treatment plans would remain the same.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of date involving 5,530 children. The obese group were in the top 5% of nationwide body mass index (BMI) measurements, while the control group had BMI measurements that were in the bottom 50% in the country.

The researchers aimed to add to what is currently already known about the genetic underpinning for adult obesity.

They found that seven genetic areas already linked to adult obesity also showed up in the children they studied. But when they focused more closely on the data, they found eight new genetic signals, two of which were significant for all humans.

The researchers then compared the two new signal areas with the genetic data on 123,864 adult participants in the GIANT Consortium long-term health study, and found that both of their new signals were present, although not as strongly present as in the children.

Very little is known about the newly discovered genetic regions, except that they both have an effect on the intestines. Neither genetic area has been implicated in obesity before, and further research was needed to find out the mechanism through which they act, Grant said.

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