Obesity is often the product environmental factors: a poor diet and not enough exercise. But people are also -- to varying degrees -- predisposed to obesity.
Recently, researchers at the Universities of Southampton, Plymouth and Exeter figured out a way to test for obesity. A simple blood test can measure the levels of epigenetic switches in the PGC1a gene -- the gene that governs the body's fat storage.
Epigenetic switches are the subtle changes in gene activity, not sequence, that happen during early development and affect how our genes express themselves in form of physiological traits.
These switches take place via chemical changes called DNA methylation, and researchers were recently able to show that higher levels of DNA methylation -- more switching -- predicted a greater likelihood of obesity.
Specifically, DNA methylation levels measuring above 10 percent in five-year-olds was associated with a 12 percent increase in body fat nine to ten years later.
"It can be difficult to predict when children are very young, which children will put on weight or become obese," said Dr. Graham Burdge, the Southampton researcher who helped lead the study. "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."
"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," he added.
The details of the study were published in the journal Diabetes.
[University of Southampton]