UCL scientists unlock secret to overeating

12 January 2009

A collaboration of scientists led by Professor Jane Wardle (Director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre in UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) have published today in the ‘International Journal of Obesity’ new evidence that the tendency to overeat could be genetic.

Cancer Research UK

UCL researchers, who were funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, created a new experiment to see if eating when full was linked to a gene called FTO**. by observing the behaviour of 131 four- to five-year-olds who were offered a plate of biscuits after they had eaten a meal. They found the children who ate more biscuits were more likely to have one or two of the ‘higher’ risk versions of the FTO gene. This research could help pave the way to a better understanding of the processes that lead children to become overweight or obese – one of the biggest risk factors for cancer.

Professor Wardle, lead author of the research paper, said: "Previous research has shown that the FTO gene is linked to larger body size. We believe this research published today tells us more about how some children are more responsive to signals in their bodies encouraging them to eat when full than others. Knowing how the genes work is the first step to minimising these negative effects. We hope this research will help improve our understanding of the causes of childhood obesity so that better measures can be taken to reduce it. Children with higher risk versions of the gene might be helped if parents do their bit to keep temptations out of the home.

“The occasional treat won’t do us any harm – but this study showed that some children don’t know when to stop – which could lead to the onset of obesity and a lifetime of health problems. We know the best way to maintain a healthy body weight is to eat a diet with lots of fibre, vegetables and fruit as well as keeping portion sizes down, and being physically active.”

Research has shown that obesity increases the risk of cancer of the bowel, womb, kidney and post – menopausal breast cancer. In the UK alone, it is estimated that 13,000 people every year could avoid cancer by maintaining a healthy body weight. Obesity has also been linked to increased risk of other cancers including cancer of the gallbladder, oesophagus and pancreas, but more research is needed to confirm this.

To find out more, follow the links at the top of this article.

 

UCL Context: Obesity research

UCL Epidemiology & Public Health is a leader in research into the causes and consequences of obesity. Its academics have published a range of obesity-related findings and recommendations for health over the past few weeks.

UCL research: latest Health Survey for England: UCL News, 16 December 2008
One in three UK adults will be obese by 2012: UCL News, 11 December 2008
Overweight children may inherit faster eating behaviour, UCL scientists reveal: UCL News, 8 December 2008