When Genes Don’t Fit

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Childhood Obesity News was talking about the discovery of several genes, including two particularly significant ones, that appear to influence childhood obesity in kids of European ancestry. The full report, by the Early Growth Genetics (EGG) Consortium, is available online from Nature Genetics.

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) was one of the funding sources for the headine-inspiring EGG study, which was headed by Struan F.A. Grant, Ph.D. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is under the NIH’s wing, and TIME reporter Alexandra Sifferlin sought out a program director there for some clarification.

Karen Winer reflects on the possible benefits for children, and the bright days ahead for a certain industry:

Dr. Grant connects the genes to gut physiology, which could help us develop pharmaceutical developments in the future… Clearly we don’t have really good treatments for obesity. We treat it once it has adverse consequences like insulin resistance. But to really treat and prevent obesity in kids and adults — we don’t have that. Some very obese adults undergo surgery, but pharmacological interventions have not been available for these individuals, and there are so many…

This reminds us of something Dr. Pretlow once said:

There are huge vested interests in other obesity medicine research areas, such as genetics, metabolism, and the ‘built environment.’ The premise that obesity is due to food addiction threatens these vested interests.

And what if it’s both, genetics and addiction? There are strong indications that both forces work together to cause childhood obesity. For instance, Emily Battaglia reported that:

According to data available from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), recent studies involving identical twins indicate that at least half of an individual’s susceptibility to addiction is genetic. However, the genetic basis for addiction is much more complex than it is for other genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, in which a single gene is responsible. Scientists have found that variations in many different genes contribute to an individual’s overall level of risk or resistance with regard to addiction.

Battaglia gives a specific example of research findings. At Yale University, a study involving 3,627 people showed that Caucasian women have an “addiction gene” or its mutated variant that is absent in both men and African Americans of either gender. Yet, those groups have their own, as yet unknown, genes that somehow create conditions in the mind and body of the patient that lead to substance abuse. And a certain (very large) percentage of people who lean that way, choose food as their drug of choice.

A few days before the EGG study was published, Pritha Chatterjee reported from New Delhi that equivalents had been found in the inhabitants of India. Three genes were discovered, called IL6, LEPR, and PBEF1 — that have a “significant role in childhood obesity.” The gene variants found in European children by Grant’s team located their prey as “one near the OLFM4 gene on chromosome 13, and the other within the HOXB5 gene on chromosome 17.”

For the study, 3,000 children between the ages of 11 and 17 were the subjects. Dr. Dwaipayan Bharadwaj of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology said:

There are studies globally on genetic profiling of childhood obesity. We have identified variations in three genes, that we can say are strongly associated with chronic inflammation that leads to obesity in young students… We have also identified for the first time, a dosage pattern in the genes — more the number of the identified genetic variations, higher the chance of obesity in the child.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood Obesity: Scientists Find Two Gene Variants,” TIME – Healthland, 04/09/12
Source: “Genetics and Other Physical Risk Factors for Addiction,” Drug & Alcohol Addiction Recovery, 09/10/09
Source: “Study adds weight to kids’ obesity theory: It’s also in genes,” Indian Express, 04/02/12
Image by Daniel Morris, used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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