Washington


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Children of African ancestry are at a higher risk of developing obesity if they possess a genetic variant that reduces their ability to produce the hormone, leptin, a recent study has found.

Leptin plays a stronger role in weight control amongst children than adults.

The study suggests that adults with the genetic variant do not have the same risk.

The findings are of an international study by scientists at the University of Copenhagen, University of Exeter, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and others, who investigated the role of genetics in controlling the leptin levels.

Associate Professor Tuomas Kilpelainen from Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen said, “Our findings suggest that young children might be particularly sensitive to the effect of leptin in controlling their body weight.”

It’s been long established that the hormone leptin is released by the body fat tissue and tells the brain how much fat is stored in the body. The more body fat a person has, the more leptin will be released in the body. This information is used by the brain to regulate a person’s appetite and food intake.

Leptin levels vary among individuals, however, around 10 to 20 per cent of obese people have been found to have the same leptin levels as those with normal weight. This variation raises questions about the role leptin plays in regulating weight.

In the research, published in Diabetes, the scientists screened the genome of more than 55,000 people for genetic variants that affect the leptin levels. They identified five new genetic variants that play a role in regulating the leptin levels. One of the variations, Vel94Met, which reduces the amount of leptin that the body produces, is only found in individuals of African ancestry. Young people with this variation are more at risk of developing obesity, though this is not true of adults with the variation who tend to be of similar weight.

This finding supports the theory that people become less sensitive to leptin with age. Administering leptin to obese adults has proven ineffective at controlling their weight.

Associate Professor Kilpelainen said this new knowledge on the impact of leptin in the weight control of young people now needs to be followed up with further studies to uncover the molecular mechanisms that underlie this age-dependent relationship between leptin and body mass index.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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