Emerging research suggest that children who are genetically predisposed to be overweight due to common gene variants can still lose weight by changing their diet and exercise habits. Pediatric obesity has become pandemic — in 2016, 124 million children and adolescents worldwide suffered from obesity.
Obesity in youth is troubling as the condition may lead to serious sequelae such as heart attacks, diabetes and cancer at a much younger age. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Holbæk Hospital examined how genetics affect children and young people’s ability to lose excess weight.
Researchers studied the impact of 15 common genetic variants associated with a general increase in a child’s risk of becoming overweight. “We are trying to understand the genetic driving force behind overweight and whether this force also makes it impossible for some to lose weight,” said Dr. Theresia Maria Schnurr, one of the authors of the study. Schnurr is a postdoc researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen..
“We show that a high genetic predisposition to overweight during childhood in fact had no influence on whether the children reacted to lifestyle intervention compared to children with low genetic predisposition to overweight.”
The research results appear in the scientific journal Obesity. Specifically, researchers demonstrated that the common genetic variants did not predict whether children and adolescents’ were able to lose weight when they changed their lifestyle.
The one exception was among children with a rare genetic mutation in the MC4R gene. These children do not seem to lose weight when undergoing lifestyle intervention.
Overall, the researchers examined 754 children and adolescents with overweight and obesity. The median age was 11.6 years. The genetic profile of all participants was mapped, and the researchers then calculated a genetic risk score for childhood overweight for each participant based on the 15 genetic variants.
They all carried one or more of the 15 genetic variants associated with increased risk for obesity and overweight during childhood. To determine whether a genetic predisposition for overweight affected the children and adolescents’ ability to lose weight the children had to implement a series of lifestyle changes.
Investigators followed a lifestyle behavioral treatment protocol developed at Holbæk Hospital. The protocol centers around the family with lifestyle changes. For example, the children and adolescents had to change their diet, means of transportation, physical activity, sedentary activity, amount of sleep, consumption of snacks and sweet things and social activities.
The intervention lasted six to 24 months. Subsequently, the researchers followed up on the treatment and found that the lifestyle changes had affected the weight of the participants, despite their genetic disposition for overweight and obesity.
“Large parts of the population believe that when you have problematic genes, it’s game over. That is why it is very important we send a clear message that even though you have a genetic sensitivity, this treatment can help people. We have discovered that it does not matter whether the children and adolescents have an increased genetic risk score or not,” said Jens-Christian Holm M.D., head of the Children’s Obesity Clinic, Holbæk Hospital.
Source: University of Copenhagen