Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have revealed that a gene known to cause type 2 diabetes has been found to increase the risk of being overweight during childhood.
The finding may present an avenue for developing drugs to counteract the disease, which has been on the upswing in childhood and adolescence.
"It has been a bit of a mystery to scientists how or even if these adult diabetes genes function during childhood," said study leader Dr Struan F.A. Grant, a researcher and associate director of the Centre for Applied Genomics of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"This finding suggests that there may be genetic activity during childhood that lays the foundation for the later development of type 2 diabetes," Grant added.
During the study, researchers investigated 20 gene variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), previously reported to be associated with type 2 diabetes, in nearly 7,200 Caucasian children, aged 2 to 18 years.
A previous study earlier this year by the same study team found that another type 2 diabetes gene, CDKAL1, affects fetal growth and increases the likelihood that a baby will be underweight at birth.
The current study found that the gene HHEX-IDE does not affect birth weight, but makes it more likely that a child will become obese during childhood.
The gene does not appear to predispose to obesity in adults, although by contributing to childhood obesity, it may set the stage for type 2 diabetes in adulthood.
The study appears in the online version of the journal Diabetes.