Scientists have discovered a gene they believe may hold the key to why some teenagers binge eat.
Around 10% of adults and teenagers binge eat – characterised by excessively overeating with a feeling of losing control over what they are consuming – and binge eating is most common in individuals who are overweight or obese.
While it has been established that a combination of genetic and environmental factors lead to eating disorders, until now there has been limited research into how specific genes increase the likelihood of binge eating behaviours in adolescence that can lead to obesity.
But a team the University College London’s Institute of Child Health believe they have found a variation of a gene that they hope will allow a better understanding of why binge eating develops, and be able to inform the development of future preventative strategies for teens at risk before they become overweight or obese.
They analysed data from 6,000 participants in the Children of the 90s study based at the University of Bristol when they were aged 14 and 16 and investigated genetic variations associated with higher BMI and obesity risk to see if they also predicted binge eating.
They found that if a young person had a particular variation in the FTO gene locus (rs1558902), they had a more than 20% higher chance of binge eating.
The pattern was particularly evident in girls, who were 30% more likely to binge eat if they had the variation.
Lead author Dr Nadia Micali, senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist at UCL’s Institute for Child Health, said: “This research offers an important first step towards understanding the genetic risk for binge eating and will help inform how we develop strategies to counter the obesity crisis.
“We now know variations in the FTO gene can predict binge eating in teenagers, and binge eating in turn can predict obesity. Eventually this finding could allow us to develop more targeted treatment for binge eating, and enable much earlier intervention so young people don’t develop obesity.”
The study, published in the journal Obesity, was carried out by UCL’s Institute of Child Health at Great Ormond Street Hospital.