Gene linked to childhood obesity

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New research by Professor Keith Godfrey, Director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and colleagues in Singapore could help target early life interventions to prevent childhood obesity.

We are currently facing a global rise in childhood obesity, with over a fifth of 4-5 year olds and a third of 10-11 year olds classed as overweight or obese in 2015 worldwide.

New research by Professor Keith Godfrey, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, could help to explain why we are seeing such a dramatic rise in childhood obesity.

Predisposing children to obesity

Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and have an increased risk of developing various health problems. Type 2 diabetes, for example, was previously considered an adult disease, but in recent years has increased dramatically in overweight children as young as five.

The researchers discovered that children with changes in the gene melanocortin-3 receptor (MC3R) began to gain more weight than other children before the age of four.

The MC3R gene encodes a hormone receptor for hormones involved in appetite regulation. It has previously been linked to obesity in adults and mice lacking this gene become obese.

This work, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, adds to current thinking on the part played by genetics in the development of childhood obesity, and could be useful in preventing obesity in future generations.

Adding to the evidence

These changes in the MC3R gene are associated with increased susceptibility to obesity in adults, but this study is the first to show that its effects start at a very early age, with differences first becoming apparent as young as two.

Children in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study were monitored from when they were first born until they were four years old. The researchers tested DNA extracted from umbilical cord blood for nine different changes in the MC3R gene.

Children with changes in the MC3R gene gained more weight and accumulated more fat, measured using a variety of methods at regular appointments until they were four years old.

This discovery shows that the effects of the MC3R gene start at a very early age, identifying it as a key player in the development of childhood obesity and a target for new treatments.

Posted on Monday 12 December 2016