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Genes found to increase childhood obesity risk
April 8th, 2012
01:01 PM ET

Genes found to increase childhood obesity risk

Researchers have identified two genetic variations that appear to increase the risk of childhood obesity.

The study authors took data from North American, Australian and European meta-analysis of 14 studies consisting of 5,530 obese children and 8,318 non-obese kids. The team compared the genetic data. 

“When we surveyed all the genetic variation across the obese children and non-obese children, some variants were highly, statistically, overrepresented in the obese cases. We saw a genetic signature for the disease,” said lead investigator Struan Grant, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The team identified two new childhood obesity related genes, one near the OLFM4 gene on chromosome 13, the other within the HOXB5 gene on chromosome 17.  Their results are published Sunday in Nature Genetics.

While nutrition, physical activity and environment are factors in childhood obesity, this study implies a genetic relationship.

“There is a genetic predisposition to childhood obesity, epidemiologists have been saying that,” Grant said. “The facts are bearing that out, as we see genetic variants associated with the trait. Some kids are obese, your genetic repertoire will interact with the environment. What your genetic load is will have a bearing on how your environment impacts your obesity risk.”

The authors reasoned that "distilling the genetic component ... should be easier in children, where environmental exposure and impact have occurred for a relatively short period in their lifetimes."

The team also identified some of the same genes in the data for obese kids as those detected in adult studies.

“We found some of those really kicked in early in life,” Grant said. “They’re strongly associated in children.”

But these genetic variations don’t fully explain childhood obesity, he warned.

The next step is to find more variants related to obesity to understand the full genetic picture. This study only involved children of European ancestry, so future studies would include kids of different ethnicities.

“These genetic variants give us new signposts in the genome for new biological insights into childhood obesity because we are beginning to understand the genetic architecture of the disease. It gives us new knowledge to develop new drug agents and treatments that will be more efficacious in treating this common disorder,” Grant said.


soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. portland tony

    I imagine researchers will eventually find a gene that attaches kids to a couch or chair after school that prevents them from working off all that non-nutritional food they get at MAC D's. Now I understand why conservatives have a mistrust of this kind of science. Back in the day, an obese person had glandular problems..Now its a defective gene. Sooner or later they will blame it on eating to much of the wrong stuff.

    April 8, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 8Jah

      Sometimes the science criticism that comes from conservatives is right on (as is the case here) and other times it is over the top (global warming).

      April 9, 2012 at 13:41 | Report abuse |
    • Miss Such-and-Such

      Conservatives don't believe in science at all. The "obesity gene" is just something that causes people to want to eat more. It doesn't actually make them fat.

      April 9, 2012 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
    • Paulwisc

      Someday science will find a cure for people who need so desperately to condemn others.

      April 9, 2012 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Someday maybe science will find a cure for people who see humans as devoid of responsibility.

      April 9, 2012 at 18:10 | Report abuse |
  2. thinkifyoucan

    Ok, is anyone surprised? At this point in time, it is appaling that people don't accept the concepts of "genetic predisposition" in the case of things that are not genetic disorders (ie down syndrome or other trisomy or chimerical disorders). The dangers of these studies is the lack of perspective. Just because you fall within the higher likelihood of this, doesn't mean you will be. The same goes for cancer genes. Instead, if a parent carries one of these two genes, they should make sure to be smarter about their childs health and eating habits and not let it simply become an excuse and say "Well my kid is going to be fat so they may as well be happy" and feed them crap and not encourage exercise.

    Also, define obese. If you are talking BMI of 30+ and overweight as BMI of 25+, then I'm overweight with a BMI of 27, at 6'5. 225, 5% bady fat because I exercise, lift weights, and otherwise am in good health.

    April 9, 2012 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Luigi

      thinkifyoucan, you make a good point about BMI. Sure you want your body fat down to 5%?

      I disagree with the cancer comment. Some genes cause cancer. I forget if it's BRA-1 or BRA-2 that all but causes cancer. One of them is a guarantee (if she lives long enough to get cancer) and the other produces about a 50% chance. Many women with the really bad gene often just have their breasts removed at a young age due to the statistics.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
  3. willoughby Lloyd

    I don't believe this, blame it on the genes again! All you need to do is to look at the old family pictures, how many of them are obese? In fact look at the old movies made in America, of course you are going to find some that were obese, but you are also going to see less obese people then than now.

    April 9, 2012 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pbtad

      I have photos going back to the 1920s of my family. They are all at least overweight and most are obese.

      This is includes my grandfather who owned and ran his own farm and was definitely not a 'couch potato'.

      Looking at that collection of images proved to me there is a genetic link long before this study came out.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
    • percysmama

      My parents and my husbands parents are over weight and were at our age. we are more active and eat better food. He is skinny and I am in good shape and a good weight BMI 23. So old photos mean nothing.

      April 9, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      I don't think anyone is arguing that finding a genetic predisposition for obesity "let's them off the hook" for being fat. Yeah, it's still "calories in, calories out," just like it always was. All this is saying is that there may be certain genetic changes in some people that make one or both sides of that equation harder to balance than it is for others.

      It's STILL their job to pack up their bum luck genes, put down the fork, and take a walk around the block. But it's interesting to better understand why some people seem to struggle so much more than others.

      April 9, 2012 at 18:18 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ pbtad
      That proves no such thing. If anything it IMPLIES your family has a long history or poor eating habits that they passed down to you.

      April 10, 2012 at 08:17 | Report abuse |
  4. Vashanka

    portland tony and willougby Lloyd, you are both simply wrong.

    Ignorance is no excuse.

    If you only knew the agony experienced by those afflicted by these genes. My daughter starved herself, eating only small amounts of lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables, and she worked out very, very hard every day but could not lose any weight whatsoever.

    Thank God, we recently found a doctor who was able to treat her for her genetic conditions. She told our daughter that none of this was her fault and that there was absolutely nothing she could have done on her own.

    Would you have the guts to look my beautiful daughter in the eye and say such awful, hurtful and just plain medically incorrect things?

    April 9, 2012 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lars Babaganoosh

      I would. If she's gaining weight it's not a rogue "gene" it's taking in more than you are using. Not rocket science

      April 9, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • portland tony

      Although it was meant sarcastically, I once had a science teacher who said....It's impossible to gain weight, if you just don't eat. While one may carry a gene that allows the body to store more than the normal amount of energy as fat, it appears there are medical procedures that can help. And as far as children's appearance goes..to me all kids are beautiful ...no matter what size box they came in!!!

      April 9, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      99% of the time, it is NOT "impossible to lose weight." Your daughter is an incredible exception, NOT the rule!

      April 9, 2012 at 18:14 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      For what "genetic conditions" was she treated?

      It's possible that your daughter required medical help to lose weight, and if so, there's nothing wrong with that. You did the right thing. But that's not the same thing as treating a "genetic condition" for weight loss.

      April 9, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @Dan
      You have to remember that most of the time when talking to someone like Vas, what they consider to be ‘starving’ themselves is anything but. If they had any reasonable concept of health they wouldn’t be in the situation they are. Granted this could be one of the extremely rare cases. But again…it’s the extremely rare part they don’t get. Ignorance is no excuse Vas.

      April 10, 2012 at 08:21 | Report abuse |
  5. ksmahoney

    People do need to be careful in their interpretation of this data. Yes, people can be genetically predisposed to obesity, and it's worse for some than others. However, our habits and our environment do affect gene expression so having a genetic predisposition doesn't mean a sealed fate.
    http://www.losingtogether.com

    April 9, 2012 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AnnieB

      I agree – predisposition is not a certaintly. However, I was overweight when I was a kid, as was my mom, and her mother too. My daughter is also very overweight for her age. We do make an effort to restrict her access to sugar, and to get her involved in outdoor activities like soccer and jumping on the trampoline. We take family walks, but it is still a struggle. I could do a better job, but I don't like to be militant about it. In any case, I am trying to keep her aware of the nutritional values of the foods we eat and help her make better choices. In the end though, I'd rather she be aware and overweight than to start giving her drugs to try to control her weight. The part I dislike about this article is the implication that we should all start medicating our children to reduce childhood obesity. I strongly disagree with that. Maybe we can just accept people for whoever they are – whatever shape, size, color, or disposition they are born with.

      April 9, 2012 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
  6. WhatNow

    Sometimes, I wish they wouldn't actually report these studies. The key phrase here is "appear to increase". This doesn't mean that there is definitely a gene that actually causes everyone to be overweight. Genetics are important, but lifestyle and living conditions are important factors. I think most people would be truly surprised to discover just how much "genetic" expression they have that has not been "expressed". This is just another piece of the puzzle. Science works to combine studies and evidence that, eventually, provide better answers.

    April 9, 2012 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Vashanka

    ksmahoney and WhatNow, I agree with both of you.

    In my daughter's case, there were quite a number of issues involved, and although the genetic predisposition was a major factor, it worked in concert with numerous other factors (including major orthopedic surgeries) to result in multiple endocrine and automimmune problems. Thank heavens, now that we know what is wrong, my daughter is making enormous progress – but she is working very, very hard to get there.

    Her peers still eat junk food all day, but they don't gain much weight. I tell her that their unhealthy lifestyles will catch up with them someday.

    April 9, 2012 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ann Wilson

    My take on this study is that it is saying there is a genetic predisposition, BUT what the child is eating and a lack
    of exercise is CAUSING this predisposition to KICK IN BIG TIME! This makes perfect sense. Since this predisposition
    can be identified in children, then steps need to be taken very early in their childhood to avoid obesity.

    April 9, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. eroteme

    'Researchers to the rescue again! What would we do without these wonderful 'researchers?

    April 9, 2012 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. eroteme

    'Researchers' to the rescue again! What would we do without these wonderful 'researchers'?

    April 9, 2012 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      Die young and live in a cave.

      April 9, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  11. eroteme

    gene or no gene, I thought it was well established if the mother and father are both fat there will be fat children.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. xeno

    When I was in school, say 25 years ago, there was always one overweight kid. One. Now, when I take my son to school, there are at least 10 times the proportion of overweight children. I would say the genetic component could be implicated in the one overweight child per class, 25 years ago, but to give license for all of these people to "blame" their genes, when so many children are unhealthy, is irresponsible. Yeah, it's supposed to be informative and help people manage their "genetic load," but seriously, if people were capable of managing their load, would we have the obesity epidemic in the first place? Maybe a gene contributes to obesity, sure, but if one were to say it explains the obesity epidemic would be to postulate something new and earth shattering about genetics.

    April 9, 2012 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. 8Jah

    The flaw with arm chair epidemiology is that: correlation is not causation. In fact the sale of ice cream cones in Wisconsin is highly correlated with boating accidents. Thus, in the language of these types of studies, ice cream consumption is a risk factor for boating related death. The truth is that people both buy ice cream and decide to boat when the weather is hot – so the two actions are non-causally related. The author tries to “fess-up” that this flaw in the middle of the article, but by then the talking point is already established.

    April 9, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      8Jah-

      You are exactly correct. The trouble comes when information like this moves from the original journal article and is presented to the public by health reporters. Researchers understand that in a case control study (like this one), when the results show that "factor x increased the risk of outcome A," what is meant is that factor X had a statistically significant effect in explaining outcome A in the data set. This is not the same thing–at all–as saying "factor x caused outcome A."

      I really wish health reporters would do a better job of clarifying the distinction. It's completely understandable that people misunderstand studies like this, because the exact same language means two very different things in different contexts (eg, an epidemiology journal vs. a CNN health report.)

      April 9, 2012 at 19:08 | Report abuse |
  14. percysmama

    The Gene is fat parents who feed their kids processed food and let them watch unlimited TV instead of good food and playground or yards for entertainment. I think letting your kid get obese is child abuse.

    April 9, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • OncoMom

      If you think that amounts to child abuse....go spend a few hours at your local office for families and chidren.

      April 10, 2012 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
    • Percysmama

      Yes and many of those kids are fat.

      April 10, 2012 at 22:04 | Report abuse |
  15. camelspyder

    Ok, so there is a fat gene now? That poop doesn't flush with me. Even if it were true, all obese families don’t carry it. I can understand when people develop a valid thyroid malfunction. The only thing most families inherit is bad eating and inactivity habits. Normally obese families keep producing obese kids is due to the fact of what foods is constantly part of the menu at the dinner and the couch potato syndrome or sleepy disorder after every meal. I have known many obese families and very close to a couple of them. There are a few stands out individuals in some obese families that have the mental will power to go against the norm. It is the one family member that is in good shape or not as fluffy as the rest of the family. True story; I have witnessed in a few families that slimmer relatives are actually ridiculed for being not fat. Comments like, "your husband/wife must not be feeding you", you must be stressed out because you're too skinny", "and you need to find a better job so you can afford to eat better". Typically, these types of comments get laughed off. The truth is, the family is jealous of one’s ability to keep the weight off! My fiancé' is from an obese family though she does not look like a member. She refuses to look like that. She's hot and it's part of why I'm with her. I know she has the potential to be as big as her mom and aunts, but she is health conscious, knows when to stop eating a fat filled meal and exercises regularly. My mother’s side of my family is obese and she is the smallest of six sisters, not even a belly gut. I have the potential to be obese, but I live a very active lifestyle by lifting weights, biking and running. Don't feed your kids fast foods four times a week, cut out the snacking in between meals and make them go outside to play (nobody will kidnap them if you go outside too) for at least an hour. Push away from the table when you are satisfied and not when all the food is gone. Put some away for left-over and better yet, don't cook so much food at one time. Change your family's bad eating and lazy habits and watch that so called "gene" disappear. Easier said than done? Give it a try without quitting and see what happens in about two weeks. These doctors/scientists with the medical excuses they come up with are comical. "Hey, fat bodies we found a fat gene that runs in your family, so if you're fat don't worry about it. You're genetically supposed to suffer from health issues like strokes, heart attacks and diabetes so we can get paid to treat you for it." Imagine if the national obesity rate drastically dropped because people changed their unhealthy lifestyles. Not something that would keep doctors too occupied(paid).

    April 9, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      There's already an ENORMOUS industry surrounding weight loss; try to get through an hour of TV after 1am without suffering through some huckster's miracle cure. To say that this is just "doctors" wanting to get paid is kind of short sited. I'd rather have scientists and doctors selling me something that has been shown to work than 99% of the weight loss garbage that gets sold now.

      April 9, 2012 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
  16. coastlinecascot

    Unless "Gene" refers to a new video game, I dont believe it. Thats why kids are fat. Very little activity from to much video games.

    April 9, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What exactly is the average fat content of a video game? Inanimate objects do not making people fat, inanimate people make people fat.

      April 9, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse |
  17. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Correlation does not mean causation. Sorry fat folks.. but you are fat because you have a poor life style. You eat too much, too poorly and exercise too little. Pretty basic.

    April 9, 2012 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anon

      I eat roughly 2000 calories a day, work out 5 times a week for at least an hour (tennis, weight lifting, cardio), yet I weigh 240 at 6'1". My friend does very little exercise and eats over 3000 calories a day and weighs 165 at 6'0".

      It's not all due to to poor lifestyle. Some people have really fast metabolisms and some people have really slow metabolisms.

      April 9, 2012 at 17:56 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      ...Which is not an excuse.

      I was supposed to be born a billionaire, but that didn't happen. I guess I will have to get over it.

      I am not naturally skinny, but I can do about 20 pullups. That is because of hard work. If 99% of the obese worked as hard as I do, they would not be obese. If I lived the lifestyle that most of them do, I would probably be as fat as they are.

      I have to work hard too, so I get what you are saying. I see some people who don't work as hard as I do, and have the body fat I have, about 10%. I would like to have better metabolism, but I try never to use it as an excuse.

      The really pathetic thing, is that many people just don't want to exercise, a trait that should have been evolved out of the species by now.

      April 9, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Dan -
      I didn't see any mention in the article of the researchers' claiming this gets fat people off the hook for being fat. You're right, of course; a genetic component at play doesn't really change what we all already knew needed to be done. But why the hostility towards the new discovery? The existence of a gene linked to obesity isn't an excuse; it just IS.

      Of course, some people will use it as an excuse, and you should feel free to yell at them if that's your style. But don't yell at the scientists. They're just figuring stuff out; it's still up to each of us to decide how to use it.

      April 9, 2012 at 19:16 | Report abuse |
    • jtucker4

      @Anon. I eat up to 4000 calories in a day when I'm bulking. I'm 5'9" weigh 195 pounds and I'm at 7% body fat. I USE to have a slow metabolism but trained my body to burn fast. I bet your friend is a skinny fat.

      April 10, 2012 at 04:23 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ Anon
      Read what jtucker4 said or better yet take it up with a doctor….I have.

      @ Scott
      I completely understand Dan’s opinion. Fat people are fat because they don’t take responsibility. This article implies there is yet another excuses for them. (Mostly because they don’t know how to tell the difference between a link and a cause) In short it gives whinny, lazy people more of a reason to whine and be lazy. I personally I’m tired of hearing it and even more tired of making special commendations for them. I’m tired of your fat rolling over into my seat on the plane.

      April 10, 2012 at 07:59 | Report abuse |
    • OncoMom

      Wow. I feel very sorry for narrow-minded people like you. So, what? You're perfect and you have somehow been endowed with a right to judge others so harshly? Karma....it's a B*(&^

      April 10, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
  18. eroteme

    Wonderful! Researchers' have blessed us with a new 'study'. They sure like these genes. Another idea might be overweight mothers and/or parents bringing their children up on junk food. Nothing more pathetic than seeing an overly fat parent eating junk food and filling their child or children with the same at fast food 'restaurants'.

    April 9, 2012 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Alan

    What a load of crock! If you eat fat, you get fat. When you see what fat people eat, there is no mystery. Just look at the stuff in peoples' carts at the grocery store and you will see how their body matches what is in the cart. It is time for people to take some resonsibility for what they put in their mouths and stop looking for excuses for being fat.

    April 9, 2012 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jtucker4

      Fat doesn't make people fat. Eating more calories then your body burns at any given time makes them fat.

      April 10, 2012 at 04:19 | Report abuse |
  20. qz

    I recommend to shut down Coca Cole and Pepsi.

    April 9, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. AnotherAtheist

    The problem with articles such as this, is that the act of reporting a preliminary study as 'news' creates the impression that either (a) the study has been validated and accepted by the relevant scientific community; or (b) the authors of the study, and scientists in general, are morons.

    If so-called 'news' outlets stuck to reporting actual news, this article would never have been published.

    April 10, 2012 at 02:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Exactly and stupid people will read this as ‘proof’ that being fat isn’t there fault.

      April 10, 2012 at 08:09 | Report abuse |
  22. AnotherAtheist

    Sorry for the extra comma.

    April 10, 2012 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. AnotherAtheist

    BTW, debating the validity of any scientific research based on your personal experience is idiotic. If you're one of "those" people, you should take an introductory science course so that you can discuss the topic intelligently.

    April 10, 2012 at 02:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. jtucker4

    My daughters drink water or diet soda like my wife and myself. I remember a fat woman asking me why I was forcing my daughter to drink diet coke. I told her, "because I don't want my kids to look like you". Kids are fat because of the choices the parents make. These "fat genes" have an extremely small impact on obesity compared to parents who give in and take their kids to McDonald's three times a day.

    April 10, 2012 at 04:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Percysmama

      Diet coke is really bad for you. I would admit to water only. My friend lost weight when she gave up diet coke.

      April 10, 2012 at 22:09 | Report abuse |
  25. Jorge

    To all the chubby kids out there, never mind the skinny people with the big mouths, get a weight set, a bicycle and a punching bag, learn how to use them properly, and have at it. Do not quit, do not starve yourself. Heft is on your side come muscle building time. Someday the skinny people will not dare comment on your weight, if they know what's good for them.

    April 10, 2012 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I think you are mistaken… it’s the fat people with the big mouths..and guts..and necks… and cankles. I appreciate your ‘positive’ message to the wee fat ones… but your negativity toward normal people and word choice betrays your BMI.

      April 10, 2012 at 08:14 | Report abuse |
  26. OncoMom

    @Tom, Tom.....why the anger and animosity? Did a fat kid beat you up when you were younger? You're just mean and your opinons are harsh and uncalled for.

    April 10, 2012 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. David C

    Please vote for prader willi.

    http://communities.challenge.gov/submissions/6800-take-one-small-step

    May 4, 2012 at 04:24 | Report abuse | Reply

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