Instead of “blaming” obese individuals for poor food choices, researchers say that obesity is influenced by three factors: genetic predispositions, environmental stress and emotional well-being.
The findings, published in the journal Appetite, shed light on why some children may be predisposed to obesity, according to the researchers.
“In broad terms, we are finding that obesity is a product of genetics, early development and circumstance,” said Michael Meaney, Ph.D., a professor at McGill University and associate director of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre.
The work is part of the MAVAN (Maternal Adversity Vulnerability & Neurodevelopment) project, headed by Meaney and Hélène Gaudreau, project coordinator. The research team studied pregnant women, some of whom suffered from depression or lived in poverty, and followed their children from birth until the age of 10.
For this particular study, researchers tested 150 MAVAN children by administering a snack test meal. The 4-year-old children were given healthy and non-healthy food choices. Mothers also completed a questionnaire to address their child’s normal food consumption and preferences.
“We found that a variation in a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine, a major neurotransmitter that regulates the individual’s response to tasty food, predicted the amount of ‘comfort’ foods — highly palatable foods such as ice cream, candy or calorie-laden snacks — selected and eaten by the children,” said Dr. Patricia Silveira, also of McGill University.
“This effect was especially important for girls, who we found carried the genetic allele that decreases dopamine function.”
“Most importantly, the amount of comfort food eaten during the snack test in the 4-year-olds predicted the body weight of the girls at 6 years of age,” Meaney said.
“Our research indicates that genetics and emotional well-being combine to drive consumption of foods that promote obesity. The next step is to identify vulnerable children, as there may be ways for prevention and counseling in early obesity stages.”
Source: McGill University