A study published in the June issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine adds to the growing body of literature investigating the genetics of obesity by linking those so-called “obesity genes” to rapid childhood growth and adult obesity.
Researchers understand that obesity and other weight-related health conditions can be inherited, and numerous studies have attempted to find the specific genes, or pieces of genetic code, which might contribute to these conditions.
This new study, conducted in New Zealand, was longitudinal, meaning participants were followed over an extended period of time – 38 years in this case. Researchers wanted to know how a few single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; or pieces of genetic code) that have been associated with adulthood obesity might contribute to general growth patterns in the first 40 years of a person’s life.
The growth of more than 1,000 participants was tracked from birth through age 38. It was found that children with more obesity-related SNPs were 1.6 to 2.4 times more likely to be obese in their teens, 20s and 30s compared to children who did not possess those SNPs. They were twice as likely to be chronically obese throughout their lifetime.
Interestingly, the results of the study also demonstrated that children with obesity-related SNPs experienced adiposity rebound – when children begin to gain back body fat that was lost in early childhood – earlier in life. They also had more dramatic rebounds than children who did not possess the same high genetic risk for obesity, leaving them with comparatively elevated BMI scores. The results were consistent whether a child’s parents were overweight or normal weight. Thus, the authors argue that genetic risk may, in some cases, tell us more about a child’s risk for obesity than family history.
One very important factor which is not discussed in this study is the role that the environment plays in childhood and adult obesity. Though the results of the study imply that genetic predisposition plays a large role in obesity risk, it is important to not feel defeated by a family history of obesity – that you don’t give up before you even try to improve your health. YOU are in charge of what you eat and how active you are, and with the right mindset and support from loved ones, you can take steps to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself no matter what your genes are. So come on – flip off the TV and get moving. Studies have shown that even just a bit of walking can dramatically decrease the effects of so-called “obesity genes.”