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Genetics, Environment Play Key Roles in Childhood Obesity

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In an effort to devise strategies for combating America’s growing obesity epidemic, scientists are currently exploring the relationship between appetite, genetics, and environment.

It’s well known that the children of this generation are heavier than the kids of previous generations. In a new report published this week by the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Pediatrics, scientists suggest that this is “rooted in environments with easily available, cheap, palatable, energy-dense and intensively marketed foods.”

In other words, kids today have easy access to high calorie, high sugar, high fat foods that are constantly advertised by resourceful and influential corporations.

But scientists say there’s more to the story than that. University of College London researchers recently examined twins to see how genetics factors into the development of appetite and obesity. Researchers studied the twins for their first fifteen months and carefully tracked appetite.

Researchers found that signs of obesity can be visible even at this early stage. “A heartier appetite in early infancy is associated with more rapid growth up to age 15 months,” the researchers noted.

In another study, researchers examined older children — there, the average age was ten. The study’s results suggest that “low satiety response” can be the result of not just “an environment rich with food,” but also a genetic predisposition to eat often.

Overall, researchers seem to agree that the studies show parents can (and perhaps should) track diet and appetite from an early age. “Findings suggest that a mother’s report of her child’s appetite may be informative in identifying children especially vulnerable to developing obesity,” noted Daniel Belsky, a medical expert at the Duke University Medical Center.

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