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Womb environment may determine childhood obesity

Washington, Sat, 17 Mar 2012 ANI

Washington, March 17 (ANI): Scientists have claimed that it is sometimes the environment in the womb of a mother that results in obesity.


They have revealed a strong link between the womb environment and increased body weight in later life.


Dr Caroline Relton, of Newcastle University, and colleagues have found changes around the DNA at birth, which may result from a mother's diet or exposure to pollution or stress, and linked these changes to a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in children aged about nine years of age.


But the researchers say more work is needed to definitively prove the link between these changes and obesity.


Childhood or adult obesity has many causes, not least childhood or adult diet, but scientists have previously linked specific genes, such as the FTO gene, with increased body weight.


Others have looked at not the genes, but associated molecular changes - what are called epigenetics - which can play a role in the way genes are "expressed" or encoded into the many proteins which we need to grow and function.


These changes are thought to be caused in part by exposure to environmental factors such as diet, stress, smoking or hormones, particularly in the womb and during early childhood.


While epigenetic changes in the womb have already been associated with later obesity, there is still little data to prove the link.


Dr Relton's team took blood samples from 24 children aged 11 to 13 and identified epigenetic changes in 29 genes which could be associated with higher body mass among the children.


They then looked at data from a larger study of 178 individuals, for whom there were both cord blood samples from birth, and body composition data from aged about nine.


Among these individuals, epigenetic changes to nine of the 29 genes previously identified appeared to correspond to increased body weight, although only one of these associated changes withstood rigorous further analysis, said the researchers.


"Other studies have just taken genes at birth and looked at differences irrespective of whether they are differently expressed with different levels of obesity," Dr Relton told the BBC.


"The difference between this study and others is that we had a reason to focus on the genes we looked at because we knew they were differently expressed in children with a higher BMI," she stated.


However, Dr Relton said more research is needed to prove the epigenetic differences observed at birth and originating in the womb, are actually contributing to obesity.


"While we have discovered an association between these genes and body size in childhood we need to carry out further studies to establish whether influencing the expression of these genes by altering epigenetic patterns is indeed a trigger to obesity," she said.


Details of the study are published in the journal Plos One. (ANI)


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