U.K. researchers have made advances developing a blood test that could screen for patients who have a genetic predisposition to obesity.
Their work, published in the journal Diabetes, involves a team from the University of Southampton, University of Exeter Medical School, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and elsewhere.
"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 basic processes that control our genes," lead researcher Graham Burdge told UPI in a story highlighting the findings.
As UPI reported, the study depends on circumstances surrounding the PGC1a gene, which controls how the body stores fat. Those genes experience epigenetic switches (changes in gene activity) during early development, and a process known as DNA methylation controls this. The research team came up with a blood test that measures those epigenetic switches. In doing so, they discovered something that points to a viable obesity biomarker in the future. It turns out that higher DNA methylation levels, reflected by more epigenetic switching, meant patients were more likely to become obese over time. For 5-year-old children, for example, they found that DNA methylation levels above 10% pointed to a 12% jump in body fat up to 10 years later.
More research is needed before this can become a viable test. But it adds fuel to the notion that genetics can make obesity more likely in some cases, well beyond just diet and exercise habits. A test could preemptively identify some young patients who may have a greater likelihood of becoming obese as they get older, allowing doctors to address the issue proactively with diet, exercise and close monitoring. Considering all the cardiac and other health problems that childhood obesity can cause down the line, such a diagnostic tool could help reduce the cost of care, at least in those cases where genetics and obesity could be clearly linked.