Friday, September 14, 2012

Adult Obesity Linked To Childhood Emotional Problems

A UK study suggests that children with emotional difficulties are at higher risk of becoming obese when they grow up, and while the researchers said the findings don't show that emotional problems like low self esteem, being overly worried or feeling less in control of one's life in childhood actually cause obesity in adulthood, they are a significant factor, alongside parental BMI, diet and exercise.


The study was the work of Andrew Ternouth, David Collier and Barbara Maughan from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and is soon to be published online in the journal BMC Medicine.

Previous studies have suggested that people who are overweight or obese also have emotional problems like low self-esteem, but which causes the other is not clear.

The researchers also found that the link between childhood emotional problems and being overweight or obese in adulthood was slightly stronger in girls than it was in boys.

They concluded that:giiven the growing problem with childhood obesity in many western societies, these findings are particularly important. On a larger scale, they may offer hope in the battle to control the current obesity epidemic.

The researchers suggest that helping children with emotional difficulties like anxiety and low self esteem could improve their chances of being in better physical health as adults.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Severe Childhood Obesity Linked To Missing DNA

Researchers in the UK have linked cases of severe childhood obesity to missing DNA that runs in families, whereby members missing the vital genetic chunk are severely obese from a young age, have a strong drive to eat and put on weight very easily; the missing DNA, called SH2B1, is located on chromosome 16 and plays an important role in regulating weight and blood sugar.


The finding has implications for the diagnosis and care of severely obese children, whose condition may be misattributed to abuse, said the researchers.

The study, thought to be the first to show this kind of genetic deletion can cause obesity, is the work of Dr Sadaf Farooqi from the University of Cambridge and Dr Matt Hurles from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and colleagues, and was published online in the journal Nature on 6 December.

Obesity is on the rise and has become a major public health concern all over the world. Although the increase in the last 30 years is most likely driven by environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle, our genes also play an important part, for instance in determining why some of us are more likely to put on weight than others.

For the study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Farooqi, Hurles and colleagues scanned the entire genomes of 300 severely obese children for mutations in copy number variants (CNVs), large segments of DNA that are either copied or missing in our genes, and which scientists suggest play a vital role in the development of genetic diseases.

They compared them to the genome information of over 7,000 controls, apparently healthy volunteers from the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium 2.

The results showed that the children with severe obesity had some CNVs that were different to the controls. The finding has implications for the diagnosis and social care of severely obese children, whose condition may incorrectly be attributed to abuse by their parents or carers.

For instance, some of the children in the study had been placed on the Social Services "at risk" register because it was assumed that their parents were deliberately overfeeding them: they are now no longer on the register, according to a press statement from the University of Cambridge.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Childhood Obesity Prevented With Positive Parenting

A study published online reveals that programs that help parents during the early years of their child's life may help prevent childhood obesity.


At present, 1 out of 5 children in the U.S. is classified as obese. Compared to children of normal weight, overweight children are five times more likely to be obese by the time they reach their teenage years. Furthermore, obese children and adolescents, especially low-income and minority youth, are at greater risk for a variety of social, academic and medical problems.

In order to find out whether early family intervention, which was effective for parents with children of behavior problems, helped to lower obesity rates, Laurie Miller Brotman, PhD, professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development at the NYU Child Study Center, and team conducted a study that involved 186 children from low-income, minority families at high risk for obesity.

The team took advantage of two long-term follow-up investigations of high-risk children who had taken part in assessments of either ParentCorps, a culturally-informed family program for young children, or the "Incredible Years," another effective parenting program, during early childhood.

When the children were around four years of age, they were randomly assigned to family intervention or a control group. Each week, children assigned to the behavioral family intervention group went to a 2-hour parent and child group over a 6-month period. Weight, nutrition, and activity were not addressed in the interventions.

ParentCorps helps parents to be more effective in their approach to discipline, and be more nurturing and responsive. Parents who participate in ParentCorps praise positive behaviors, such as sharing with peers, are more attentive and attuned to their children, and spend more time reading as well as playing with their children. Furthermore, parents use more effective strategies for punishment, such as time out, instead of physical punishment. ParentCorps is especially helpful for parents of children with behavioral problems, and has benefits for socioeconomically and ethnically diverse families.

In both follow-up studies, children in the control group and those in the intervention group were assessed between 3 to 5 years later. As the children approached adolescence, body mass index, physical activity and sedentary activity were included in the examination. One of the studies also measured nutritional intake and blood pressure.

The researchers found that rates of obesity were considerably lower among children who received family intervention during early childhood, than children in the control group.

Furthermore, they found that half of the children in the control group with early behavior problems were obese by second grade, while only 24% of children with behavior problems who received ParentCorps in early childhood were obese.

The researchers also found positive effects on physical activity and sedentary behavior. The study that analyzed nutritional intake and blood pressure revealed relatively lower intake of carbohydrates and lower rates of blood pressure in teenagers who received family intervention during early childhood.

According to the researchers family intervention programs, such as ParentCorps, that prevent behavior problems at a young age and promote effective parenting, may help to lower the obesity rate among low-income, minority youth.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Genes That Influence Childhood Obesity Found

A large international consortium study has found at least two gene variants that increase the risk for common childhood obesity. Writing in Nature Genetics on 8 April, the researchers describe how they linked variants near the loci OLFM4 and HOXB5 to this condition, and showed they are also linked with increased body mass index (BMI) in adults.


Lead investigator Dr Struan F.A. Grant, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the US, and colleagues write in their background information that while we now know of a number of genes linked to adult obesity, and a handful that are linked to severe childhood obesity, little progress had been made in finding genes behind common childhood obesity.

There is evidence that environmental factors, such as diet and lifestyle have contributed to the increasing rate of childhood obesity, but more recently, studies of twins and families have proposed there may be a genetic contributor to common childhood obesity.

Carrying a gene variant that predisposes a child to obesity does not necessarily mean he or she will develop the condition, but it may explain why among children eating roughly the same diet and having the same lifestyle, there will those who put on more weight.

Grant explained that while their centre at Philadelphia had the world's largest collection of DNA from children with common obesity, the only way to ensure enough statistical power to carry out a study to find new genes, was to bring together an international body of researchers to combine similar worldwide data sets.

So that is how Grant and the rest of the international Early Growth Genetics (EGG) Consortium, comprising researchers from North America, Australia and Europe, came to carry out the largest ever genome-wide study of childhood obesity, and, as Grant told the press:

"As a consequence, we have definitively identified and characterized a genetic predisposition to common childhood obesity."

For the meta-analysis, the researchers pooled data from 14 studies covering a total of 5,530 cases of childhood obesity and 8,300 control subjects, all of European ancestry.

In a first pass of the data, they found 8 potential candidate genes linked to early-onset obesity. From these, using statistics to test the strength of the link to childhood obesity, they narrowed the list down to two loci, one near the OLFM4 gene on chromosome 13, the other within the HOXB5 gene on chromosome 17.The first gene appears to raise the odds of early-onset obesity by 22%, while the other raises it by 14%.

The researchers also tested and showed that both of the loci were linked to severe childhood obesity, and from previous studies, to adult BMI.

They suggest two other variants may also be involved. None of these genes had been linked to obesity before.

Grant said because of their location, we know that three of the genes may influence the biology of the gut, but otherwise we know very little about them.

Grant said the findings open up "new avenues to explore the genetics of common childhood obesity".

There is still a lot of work to do, he added, but the hope is that the discovery "may ultimately be useful in helping to design future preventive interventions and treatments for children, based on their individual genomes".

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