Health Team

'Hunger gene' could cause childhood obesity

Posted August 8, 2008

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— A gene might make children prone to becoming obese, according to the results of a recent study in the United Kingdom.

Researchers hope the discovery might help children, such as 9-year-old Jenna Cunneen, in the middle of what some experts describe as an obesity epidemic.

Although a cone of "vanilla (ice cream) with sprinkles" might be tempting, Jenna says she knows too much isn't good for her. Others, though, might have a gene that causes them to eat more, researchers believe.

The study tested more than 3,000 children between the ages of 8 and 11. It found that children with a particular strain of gene could not tell when they were full. They were more likely to eat than children without the gene.

"It is genuinely much more difficult for them to regulate their food intake appropriately," Dr. Jane Wardle, a professor at University College London, said.

Researchers think the findings could lead to testing to indentify children with the gene or a drug to help them feel full.

They warned, though, to remember that the gene is just one piece of the over-eating puzzle. Nutritionist Tara Miller said that having that gene does not doom a child to a lifelong battle with weight.

"You still want to address it from a very healthy perspective and try to change the things you have control over, keeping in mind the things you do not," Miller said.

Diet experts that adults help children control their portions. Eating more slowly can also help people determine when they begin to feel full.

Cuneen's parents said they family has a secret to keeping healthy.

"We eat at home to avoid going out, because that's where all the traps are," Cindy Cunneen said.


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