The prevalence of obesity in children and adults in the United States has increased by more than 30% over the past decade. Although there are clearly strong genetic influences, the dramatic rise in recent years must reflect major changes in non-genetic factors. Distillation of the genetic component in this complex phenotype should thus be easier to determine in children, where environmental exposure and impact has been for a relatively short period of their lifetime.

Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which in turn has serious complications including accelerated development of cardiovascular disease. Given the expected global increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity, prevention of this disease and its serious complications must be addressed in order to reduce individual morbidity and the economic burden on society.

Family and twin studies show that there is a significant genetic component to obesity. However, classical candidate gene studies have achieved only limited success in identifying relevant genetic determinants. In light of current technological developments, our project is a non-hypothesis-driven study that is directed at uncovering genes and genetic variants that predispose to childhood obesity by conducting a genome-wide association study using high density arrays.

Selected Papers Generated by this Funding:

Grant et al. (2008) Association analysis of the FTO gene with obesity in children of Caucasian and African ancestry reveals a common tagging SNP. PLoS One, 3(3):e1746.

Grant et al. (2009) Investigation of the locus near MC4R with childhood obesity in Americans of European and African ancestry. Obesity, 17:1461-1465.

Zhao et al. (2009) The role of obesity-associated loci identified in genome wide association studies in the determination of pediatric BMI. Obesity, 17:2254-2257.

Zhaoet al. (2010) Examination of all type 2 diabetes GWAS loci reveals HHEX-IDE as a locus influencing pediatric BMI. Diabetes, 59:751-5.

Glessner et al. (2010) A genome-wide study reveals copy number variants exclusive to childhood obesity cases. American Journal of Human Genetics, 87:661-666.