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Genetic clues to childhood obesity

Friday October 15th, 2010

Idleness, poor food and inactivity have been blamed for childhood obesity - but now researchers say that sometimes genes may be involved.

Genes have been uncovered that increase the risk of childhood obesity, it was announced last night.

The findings suggest that people of European and of African descent have different genes that may lead to children piling on the pounds.

A study by paediatric researchers say children who have copy number variations (CNVs), which are deletions or duplications of DNA sequences, are at a very high risk of becoming obese.

The research is published in today’s Cell Press in the American Journal of Human Genetics, is likely to guide future studies aimed at unravelling the biology that underlies childhood obesity.

The team, led by Dr Struan Grant, of the Center for Applied Genomics (CAG) at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dr Hakon Hakonarson, director of the CAG, found variants that were exclusive to obese children across two ethnicities, European Americans and African Americans.

The team looked for copy number variations in a European American cohort of 1,080 obese children and a control group 2,500 children, who were of healthy weight.

After identifying the multiple variants that occurred in the obese children but not the slimmer, control group, they replicated the study in 1,479 obese African American children and 1,575 health weight youngsters in a control group.

Of the 17 variants they found in obese European Americans, eight also occurred in obese African Americans.

Dr Hakonarson said the majority of the genes located at the CNV sites had not been associated with obesity before.

"Because many gene variants have different frequencies in different ethnic groups, detecting these same CNVs in both groups, exclusively in obese subjects, strengthens the probability that these CNVs play a genuine role in the development of obesity," said Dr Hakonarson.

"Our study represents the first large-scale, unbiased genome wide scan of CNVs in common paediatric obesity and reveals genes impacted by CNVs that are exclusive to cases in two different ethnicities and have not previously been directly implicated in the context of obesity and await further characterisation," added Dr Grant.

Obesity has become a major health problem in Western societies over the past ten years.

Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other chronic illnesses. Approximately 70 per cent of obese teenagers grow up to become obese adults.

A Genome-Wide Study Reveals Copy Number Variants Exclusive to Childhood Obesity Cases, American Journal of Human Genetics, published online Oct. 14, 2010.

Tags: Africa | Child Health | Diet & Food | Europe | Fitness | Genetics | North America

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