Genetic risk for obesity in children boosts risk for obesity in adulthood

Research Activities, December 2012, No. 388

A new study finds an important link between genetic variations in children and obesity later in adult life. The 4 decades of research discovered that children at higher genetic risk grew more rapidly during childhood and were more likely to develop obesity in adulthood. Genetic risk was unrelated to birth weight. The longitudinal study enrolled 1,037 individuals living in Dunedin, New Zealand. All participants represented various socioeconomic groups observed in the general population. These individuals were assessed for height and weight at birth and followed at regular age intervals up to age 38. Genetic risk scores (GRSs) were determined by identifying multiple single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with a higher adult body mass index (BMI).

Children with higher GRSs had higher BMIs at every age assessed from age 3 through age 38 years. Although children at high and low genetic risk were the same weight at birth, those at higher genetic risk grew more rapidly following birth and were more likely to develop obesity. The rates of obesity among participants was 5.5 percent during the teenage years, 11.2 percent from 21-26 years, and 22.3 percent from ages 32-38 years. Children with higher GRSs were 1.61 to 2.41 times more likely to become obese in their second, third, and fourth decades of life and 1.90 times more likely to remain chronically obese across 3 or more assessments.

The researchers found that the genetic associations between growth and the risk for obesity were independent of family history. In children with normal-weight and overweight parents, a higher GRS predicted faster growth and higher risk for obesity. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS20524).

See "Polygenic risk, rapid childhood growth, and the development of obesity," by Daniel W. Belsky, Ph.D., Terrie E. Moffitt, Ph.D, Renate Houts, Ph.D., and others in the June 2012 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 166(6), pp. 515-521.

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Current as of December 2012
Internet Citation: Genetic risk for obesity in children boosts risk for obesity in adulthood: Research Activities, December 2012, No. 388. December 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/12dec/1212RA15.html