Study Finds Genes May Not Be Main Cause of Childhood Obesity

Obesity during childhood is a challenge for many children. However, there may be hope, as German researchers have discovered that social, environmental and behavioral factors influence weight loss significantly, while obesity genes play a minor role in successful weight loss.

The recent study carried out by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) suggests that there are vital things to consider with regard to treatment strategies for obesity in children. Melanie Heitkamp, a researcher from TUM’s department of prevention, sports medicine and rehabilitation, explained that using an individual’s genetic predisposition as a basis for their likelihood to respond to a treatment for obesity may not help the treatment in succeeding.

Heitkamp, who is also the study author, added that even people who carried risk variants of genes connected with obesity would derive benefit from a healthy lifestyle, which included regular physical activity and a calorie-balanced diet.

The study involved more than 1,400 young individuals between the ages of 6 and 19 who were either obese or overweight. The study participants were enrolled in a four- to six-week program comprised of behavioral therapy, physical activity every day and a diet that was calorie restricted. In addition to this, the scientists also examined the genes of about 1,200 of the individuals involved in the study.

Heitkamp stated that some individuals had a rare obesity form that was brought about by single-gene defects. However, no one gene could be identified in a majority of people as the main cause of obesity. Furthermore, she explained that the interaction between an individual’s unhealthy lifestyle and genetics contributed to obesity. More than 900 gene variants that had been identified in various studies were linked to obesity.

Heitkamp also noted that genome studies had discovered 97 loci on human chromosomes that were linked to obesity at the time her team was conducting a statistical analysis. Further study had brought the number of those locations lower, to 56.

The scientists discovered that of the five statistically significant gene variants, three were linked to greater weight loss during the study duration. This meant that individuals who were carriers of the at-risk genes lost more weight through the lifestyle changes adopted than expected. The study’s results were reported in an online “JAMA Pediatrics” article.

However, the researchers believe that more studies need to be conducted to determine whether other genes that are not linked to obesity may also influence weight loss.

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