Have you ever noticed why little newborns gain weight at varying rates and in varying amounts during their early years of life? Now, researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway have discovered that our genes play a big role in this. The findings shed light on the early-life systems that regulate hunger and energy metabolism and may aid in the development of improved treatments for obesity in adolescents and maturity.
Professor Pål R. Njølstad of University of Bergen, Norway. Image Credit: Eivind Senneset.
Children grow quickly after birth. During infancy, the length grows by around half, and the weight doubles. Then, until a growth surge in adolescence, growth slows down and enters a steady period in childhood. But what fuels this rapid expansion?
The reason has finally been discovered by researchers at the University of Bergen’s Centre for Diabetes Research. They examined the genomes of 30,000 children and their parents who were part of the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort. Each person’s genetic variations were evaluated and connected to growth data from a set of height and weight measures taken from birth to eight years of age.
The discoveries have gotten a lot of media attention.
Professor Pål R. Njølstad adds, “It turned out that genes linked to extreme obesity, appetite and the body's energy consumption are responsible for the growth regulation.”
This is dynamic in that specific genes have an effect only on some of the different phases of growth. We believe that this is probably one of the reasons why parents have always noted that some children are born with a naturally higher appetite than others and have significantly more fat mass in infancy. It seems that these dynamic effects are especially important in the first years of life, and that they do not increase the risk of later obesity.”
Professor Pål R. Njølstad, Professor, Centre for Diabetes Research, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen
Some of the genes have been connected to medications that are experimented to reduce weight growth in people who are severely obese. As a result, the findings might have implications for the management of normal obesity. The results have been published in Nature Metabolism.
Helgeland, Ø., et al. (2022) Characterization of the genetic architecture of infant and early childhood body mass index. Nature Metabolism. doi.org/10.1038/s42255-022-00549-1.