A simple DNA blood test has been developed by UK scientists may be able to predict obesity levels in children a decade in advance so we can change their diets to combat obesity by the time they are teenagers.
Scientists claim that checking for specific DNA changes at the age of five can predict how much body fat a child will have at the age of 14.
- Scientists can check for changes in DNA and predict obesity levels
- The revolutionary test zeros in on a gene that regulates fat storage
- Results could help predict if a child is going to be an overweight teenager
Researchers at the Universities of Southampton, Exeter and Plymouth have developed the DNA testing process.
It assesses the level of changes in the PGC1a gene – a gene that regulates fat storage in the body – caused by methylation.
Methylation is an ‘epigenetic’ or re-programming mechanism that allows genes to be affected by exposure to environmental factors.
Increasingly, epigenetic effects are being seen as important drivers of different aspects of health and they can occur in the womb, around birth or later in life.
Dr Graham Burdge, of the University of Southampton said: ‘It can be difficult to predict when children are very young, just which children will put on weight or become obese.
‘It is very important to know which children are at risk because help, such as suggestions about their diet, can be offered early and before they start to gain weight and become obese.
‘The results of our study provide further evidence that being overweight or obese in childhood is not just due to lifestyle, but may also involve important basic processes that control our genes.
‘We hope that this knowledge will help us to develop and test new ways to prevent children developing obesity which can be introduced before a child starts to gain excess weight.
‘However, our findings now need to be tested in larger groups of children.’
With the latest figures for England showing that almost a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese this comes as good news for parents.
Around three-quarters of obese children are likely to remain over weight as adults which can put them at risk of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The Scientists used DNA samples from 40 children who took part in the EarlyBird project, which studied 300 children in Plymouth from the age of five until they were 14 years old.
Led by Professor Wilkin, the study assessed the children in Plymouth each year for factors related to type 2 diabetes, such as the amount of exercise they undertook and the amount of fat in their body.
A blood sample was collected and stored. The Southampton team extracted DNA from these blood samples to test for epigenetic switches.
Epigenetic switches take place through a chemical change called DNA methylation, which controls how genes work and is set during early life.
The Southampton team found that a rise in DNA methylation levels of 10 per cent at five years was associated with up to 12 per cent more body fat at 14 years.
Results were independent of the child’s gender, their amount of physical activity and their timing of puberty.