Researchers have discovered a simple blood test that reads DNA to predict obesity levels in children.
Researchers used the test to assess the levels of epigenetic switches in the PGC1a gene – a gene that regulates fat storage in the body.
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 the test carried out on children aged 5 differentiated between children with a high body fat and those with a low body fat when they were older.
Results showed that a rise in DNA methylation levels of 10 percent at five years was associated with up to 12 percent more body fat at 14 years.
“It can be difficult to predict when children are very young that which children would put on weight or become obese. It is 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,” Graham Burdge of University of Southampton commented.
The results 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.
The research that involved professor Terence Wilkin from University of Exeter and Joanne Hosking from University of Plymouth used DNA samples from 40 children who took part in the ‘EarlyBird’ project that studied 300 children from age five until they were 14.
A blood sample was collected and stored. The Southampton team extracted DNA from these blood samples to test for epigenetic switches.
“We hope that this knowledge would 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,” Burdge said.
The results, published in the journal Diabetes, were independent of the child’s gender, their amount of physical activity and timing of puberty.