Study: Childhood obesity has a 'genetic signature'

April 9, 2012, 12:08 p.m.

Researchers have concluded that childhood obesity has a "genetic signature," meaning it may not be purely attributable to lifestyle. (Credit: Alejandro Tamayo/Flickr Creative Commons)

It's more than the junk food and lack of exercise: Researchers have concluded there's a genetic component to child obesity.

The study found that several genetic markers associated with obesity in adults are also factors in child obesity, researcher Struan Grant told MedPage Today.

The findings augment a growing list of connections between genetics and obesity. In March, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center found a genetic mutation in mice that essentially blocked the brain's message to the body to stop eating.

There "is indeed a genetic signature of childhood obesity," said Grant to MedPage, lending support to the notion that child obesity cannot be purely attributed to lifestyle.

South Los Angeles is conducive to that sort of lifestyle that causes obesity, however. Statistics from the L.A. County Department of Public Health paint a picture of a region with obesity rates higher than the rest of the county, and Brian Leung, an administrator at Loyola Marymount University, says that's pretty common in the inner city.

Leung, who is the director of the School Psychology program and the chair of the Department of Educational Support Services in LMU's School of Education, told OnCentral in February that people who live in the inner-city tend to be more unhealthy due to the lack of healthy food options and the lack of outdoor exercise due to a generally higher crime rate.

"Gyms are not readily available for general exercises and are costly," he said. As for the kids – they often lack supervision after school, he explained, which leaves them free to eat what they want and remain sedentary for as long they want.

Maria Soberano, who used to be part of Newton Police Division's cadet program, affirmed as much when she spoke with OnCentral back in January.

"There are some kids who aren't necessarily in trouble, but all they do is stay home and play video games," she said. "They're very anti-social."

According to MedPage, little has been known about the genetic influences on child obesity. The latest study also found two new genetic markers that previously had not been associated with obesity. All researchers can say about those markers, though – at least for now – is that they both act in the gut.

And despite the new information about possible new causes for child obesity, Keith-Thomas Ayoob of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City said the fix will remain the same.

"We may know more about childhood obesity, but until there's a magic bullet, the treatment will be the same," he told MedPage. "Kids still need to have better diets and they really need to be more active.

In a recent interview with OnCentral, L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry pointed to the problem of child obesity in her Ninth District and about the lack of healthy food options and places where kids can exercise.

Photo by Alejandro Tamayo via Flickr Creative Commons.

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