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Concerns Over Childhood Obesity and the “Greedy” Gene


Monday, December 15th, 2008 Concerns Over Childhood Obesity and the “Greedy” Gene

Two articles worthy of discussion are surrounding the issues of obesity. Though more specifically, there is a need to look at the relationship between genetics and obesity. Firstly, Daniel Martin’s report in the Mail (11 12 08) highlights the plight of a quarter of our school-children starting primary school. They are deemed as either overweight or even worse obese suggest the NHS.

According to the report a quarter of all four to five year olds are overweight, official figures showed yesterday. And despite a range of Government initiatives designed to tackle the childhood obesity explosion, the number of fat children has not gone down at all over the last year. It has been suggested that the “greedy gene” that causes some children to eat 100 extra calories at every meal. Scientists had discovered that the gene appears to make the children avoid healthy meal options and eat fatty and sugary foods. The effect could be greater in adults, with those carrying it eating up to 15% more at mealtimes.

Hitherto from the point of view that the reasoning behind obesity and this story is more complex and multi-faceted. This gene variant is very unlikely to be the only explanation for differences in weight between individuals and there may be other genes involved in obesity. What can be addressed relates specifically to the heart of the governments anti-obesity campaign, which to all intense and purpose has failed the children is was designed to protect. There is also cause for concern when diseases such as cancer, heart disease and some forms of cancer will reach epidemic proportions.

That said, Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum (NOF) argues “We had high hopes that there would have been a marked improvement after all the money that is being thrown at the problem but it seems that more radical measures will be needed to reduce obesity levels.’ He said it was ‘horrifying’ that obesity levels at year six (age 10 and 11) were so much higher than at reception class (age four and five). ‘The Government’s much vaunted healthy schools policy and other measures are obviously not working, or very slow to get off the ground,’ he said.

With reference to Lisa Cooney, head of education for World Cancer Research Fund, said: ‘These latest figures are a real cause for concern. This is because research has shown that the more overweight a child is, the more likely it is they will be overweight as an adult. This is important for cancer because scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing we can do for cancer prevention.’

It has been established that nearly a million children took part in the 2007/08 programme, with 88 per cent of those eligible being weighed and measured. This was up on the 80 per cent who took part in 2006/07. The scheme has attracted criticism because parents can ‘opt out’ of having their children weighed and measured. Research has suggested that the heaviest children opt out of the programme, leaving campaigners suggesting it fails to offer a true picture of childhood obesity in England.

Tim Straughan, NHS Information Centre chief executive has said ‘Obesity is one of the biggest threats to the health of our nation and it is of huge concern that the problem is afflicting so many children and at such an early age.’ What needs to be identified urgently, is to see if there is a direct link in relation to the six new obesity genes discovered.

Moreover, the vast majority of the newly discovered genes appear to cause carriers to eat more, rather than affect their body’s ability to process fat, researchers believe. The discovery could help scientists develop new ways to turn off impulses in the brain that make some people overeat. With reference to Kate Devlin of the Telegraph’s article (14 12 08) she reports that scientists looked at the genes of more than 90,000 people and uncovered six genetic variants associated with an increased Body Mass Index (BMI), the standard measurement of obesity.

Of the six, five are active in the brain, and could affect behaviour around food, rather than how the body breaks down fat or uses up energy, according to the findings, published in the journal Nature Genetics.

“It might seem remarkable that it is the brain that is most commonly influenced by genetic variation in obesity, rather than fat tissue or digestive processes,” says Dr Ines Barroso, a senior author on the study, from the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute. “Until 2007, no genetic associations had been found for ‘common obesity’, but today almost all those we have uncovered are likely to influence brain function.”

Notwithstanding, carriers with all six of the genes are likely to be at least five pounds over-weight.

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