New clues in childhood obesity puzzle

21 September 2017
Boy with obesity 72dpi

New Zealand research has identified a genetic variant which could play a role in childhood obesity.

Evidence from New Zealand’s longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand shows how genes and the environment may interact to promote obesity.

The research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, investigated the occurrence of a genetic variant in the CREBRF gene in more than 5,000 children participating in the study.

The investigators found that this genetic variant:

  • Is associated with increases in children’s weight, height and waist circumference at four years of age
  • Affects boys more significantly than girls
  • Is more common in Māori and Pacific children.

Previous international research has connected this genetic variant to increased body mass index in Samoan adults, but this investigation provides new understanding of genetic variation in New Zealand children across a range of ethnic groups.  

The research also discovered that while this DNA variation began to have an impact when the children reached four years of age.

There was no difference in birthweight or weight at two years of age between the children with the genetic variant and others.

Researchers say the finding raises the possibility that the environment the children live in modifies the effect that the genetic variant has on body size.

Lead investigator Dr Sarah Berry says that this new knowledge offers the potential for evidence-based interventions aimed at establishing healthy growth trajectories from the earliest possible age.

“Our research represents an important step toward understanding the interactions between our diet, lifestyle, and genetic make-up.

“Being able to look at anonymous, population-level data from Growing Up in New Zealand provides us with the unique opportunity to figure out why people are the way they are, and to create new opportunities for improving health outcomes” says Dr Berry.

The findings contribute important information to national and international strategies to tackle childhood obesity.

You can read the full publication here: Widespread prevalence of a CREBRF variant amongst Māori and Pacific children is associated with weight and height in early childhood.