Is Obesity Hereditary? Yes, With Exception: Researchers

by Tanya Thomas on Jul 15 2009 10:25 AM

Scientists have found a strong obesity link between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons. The link, however, appears to be missing over the gender divide.

In a study of 226 families by Plymouth's Peninsula Medical School, researchers found that obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters and for fathers and sons, there was a six-fold rise.

But in both cases children of the opposite sex were not affected.

According to the researchers, it was "highly unlikely" that genetics was playing a role in the findings, as it would be unusual for them to influence children along gender lines.

On the other hand, they attributed the link to some form of "behavioural sympathy" where daughters copied the lifestyles of their mothers, and sons copied the lifestyles of their fathers.

And, thus, experts believe that the government policy on tackling obesity should be re-thought.

To date, researchers have focussed on younger age groups in the belief that obese children become obese adults.

But the new findings indicate that obese adults led to obese children.

"It is the reverse of what we have thought and this has fundamental implications for policy," the BBC quoted study leader Professor Terry Wilkin as saying.

He added: "We should be targeting the parents and that is not something we have really done to date."

The researchers took weight and height measurements for children and parents over a three-year period.

It was found that 41 percent of the eight-year-old daughters of obese mothers were obese, as compared to four percent of girls with normal-weight mothers.

However, there was no difference in the proportion for boys.

For boys, 18 percent of the group with obese fathers were also obese, compared to just three percent for those with normal-weight fathers.

And again, there was no difference in the proportion for girls.

The findings of the study have been published in the International Journal of Obesity.