Could Obesity Be Caused by a Binge-Eating Gene?

Whether it’s Christmas or a blow-out three course meal, we probably all have the odd occasion where we eat far more than we need to. However, for an estimated 10% of adults and teenagers in the UK, binge eating is a regular occurrence and something that they feel is out of their control. Now, research from University College London (UCL) has pinpointed the specific genetic variation that could influence an individual’s likelihood of overeating.

UCL researchers analysed data from 6,000 teenage participants. It was found that those with certain variations in the FTO gene were 20% more likely to binge. This figure was even higher for female participants, who were 30% more likely to binge eat if they had the variation.

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK, which has the highest levels of the condition in Western Europe. It is particularly an issue amongst the teenage population, with one in five 11-15 year olds reportedly being obese. This research from UCL is therefore very significant, as it could lead to earlier intervention to prevent young people from becoming obese as they enter adolescence and beyond.

Not only will this benefit the individuals’ health, but it will also relieve some of the pressure that is currently on the NHS. According to The Guardian, the NHS spends £5 billion per year on diseases that are linked to obesity, such as diabetes and strokes. In 2013, it was reported that the number of children and teenagers in England and Wales being admitted to hospital with obesity-related conditions had quadrupled over the decade. Again, admissions were more common amongst teenage girls than boys.

At Coventry University, the Physical Activity, Exercise and Obesity research group focuses on the factors that influence obesity in children as well as adults. Professor Derek Renshaw from the group, says:

“It is easy to understand how a gene encouraging our earliest human ancestors to over-eat could have evolved in an environment where calories were hard to come by. Excess calories would be stored as fat and the energy utilised later when food sources were less plentiful.

“However, the human environment has changed rapidly in the past 50 years, so much so that, a gene encouraging over–eating may now be detrimental to to an individuals health. Increasing evidence suggests that obese children will become obese adults and so increasing physical activity and healthy eating in children should be encouraged, if we are to avoid a further rise in adult obesity.”

To find out more about Coventry University’s research into obesity, visit the Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences.



Coventry University