‘Fat gene’ carried by one in 340 people makes children pile on an extra 37 POUNDS by the time they reach 18, study finds in discovery that could pave the way for an anti-obesity pill
- The gene, called MC4R, controls appetite by making a protein that identifies fat
- Scientists have discovered a mutation in the gene that means you don’t feel full
- The mutation is carried by about 200,000 people in the UK (one in 340)
- Researchers hope findings could pave the way for an anti-obesity pill
A mutation in the so-called ‘fat gene’ has been discovered, which makes children pile on an extra 37 pounds (16.7kg) by the time they reach age 18.
The gene, called Melatonin 4 Receptor (MC4R), controls appetite by making a brain protein that identifies stored fat.
However, a mutation in the gene, thought to be carried by one in 340 people, can make children start piling on the pounds from a young age.
Researchers hope that its discovery could pave the way for an anti-obesity pill in the near future.
A mutation in the so-called ‘fat gene’ has been discovered, which makes children pile on an extra 37 pounds (16.7kg) by the time they reach 18 (stock image)
The Children of the 90s Study
Based at the University of Bristol, the Children of the 90s, is a world-leading birth cohort study.
Bristol University explained: ‘Between April 1991 and December 1992 we recruited more than 14,000 pregnant women into the study and these women (some of whom had two pregnancies or multiple births during the recruitment period), the children arising from the pregnancy, and their partners have been followed up intensively over two decades.
‘We are the most detailed study of its kind in the world and we provide the international research community with a rich resource for the study of the environmental and genetic factors that affect a person’s health and development.
‘Through our research we aim to inform policy and practices that will provide a better life for future generations.’
Co-author Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, of the University of Cambridge, explained: ‘Parents of obese children are often blamed for poor parenting and not all children obtain appropriate professional help.
‘Our findings show that weight gain in childhood due to a single gene disorder is not uncommon.’
If the MC4R gene does not work as normal, we think we have less, signalling hunger even when our stomach is full.
About 200,000 people in the UK have the mutation, according to the team, with carriers weighing an average 2st 9lbs bigger than average by age 18. What is more, most of the excess timber is fat.
Professor O’Rahilly said: ‘This should encourage a more compassionate and rational approach to overweight children and their families – including genetic analysis in all seriously obese children.’
In the study, the team analysed the genes in 6,000 members of the Children of the 90s Study that tracks the lives of people born in south west England.
If a mutated version was found, they went on to identify its functional effects in the laboratory.
The findings suggest that around 200,000 people in the UK could carry large amounts of fat because of MC4R mutations.
Dr Kaitlin Wade, of the University of Bristol, and co-author of the study, said: ‘Work like this is really made possible as a result of the amazing properties presented by a study like Children of the 90s.
About 200,000 people in the UK have the mutation, according to the team, with carriers weighing an average 2st 9lbs bigger than average by age 18
‘Having biological samples for sequencing and rich life course data within a representative population sample is critical to allow new understanding and deep characterisation of important biological genetic effects like these.’
The participants were born in Bristol in 1990 and 1991 and have been followed ever since.
Co-author Professor Nic Timpson, Children of the 90s’ principal investigator at Bristol, said: ‘This work helps to recalibrate our understanding of the frequency and functional impact of rare MC4R mutations.
The gene, called Melatonin 4 Receptor (MC4R), controls appetite by making a brain protein that identifies stored fat (stock image)
‘It will help to shape the future management of this important health factor – we extend our thanks to the participants of the Children of the 90s.’
The researchers hope the discovery of the mutation could pave the way for treatments in the near future.
Professor O’Rahilly added: ‘In the longer term, knowledge of the brain pathways controlled by MC4R should help in the design of drugs.
‘They would bypass the signalling blockade and help restore people to a healthy weight.’
OBESITY: ADULTS WITH A BMI OVER 30 ARE SEEN AS OBESE
Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.
Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.
Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.
As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.