Parents’ Genetics, Lifestyle May Affect Their Children’s Weight, Study Suggests

Marisa Wexler MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler MS |

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The genetic and lifestyle factors of parents, such as the amount of sleep they get at night, may influence the body weight of their children, a new study suggests.

Titled “The Association of Parental Genetic, Lifestyle, and Social Determinants of Health with Offspring Overweight,” the study was published in the journal Lifestyle Genomics.

Body weight is affected by a number of interacting factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and socioeconomic influences. Researchers from the U.K and Spain set out to investigate the extent to which weight-related factors in parents affected their children’s risk of being overweight.

The team collected data from 123 parents living in the U.K. All participants were biological parents and primary caregivers of a child, 16 or younger. Parental data included status of genetic variants previously linked to body weight, as well as lifestyle and socioeconomic factors such as sleep patterns, ethnicity, household income, and smoking status.

Then, statistical models were constructed to determine the extent to which these factors influenced whether or not their children were overweight, as determined by a body mass index (BMI) of at least 25 kg/m2.

In an initial analysis, the only parental factor that significantly predicted a child’s weight was the BMI of the mother. Yet, while statistically significant, the magnitude of this effect was low.

Subsequent analyses revealed that a significantly higher percentage of biological mothers of overweight children had an obesity-associated variant in the gene MC4R (rs17782313 C allele) than mothers of non-overweight children (77.8% vs. 41.4%). This difference remained statistically significant after controlling for the BMI of the mother.

The MC4R gene encodes a protein that is part of the melanocortin system, which helps to regulate appetite. Whether the children also carried the obesity-associated variant was not assessed.

“Future research of this kind should endeavour to obtain offspring genotype [genetic profile] data, as this will determine whether offspring genotype may be contributory to weight gain or whether parental genotype may be influencing parental weight and as a result impacting offspring weight status,” the researchers wrote.

In addition, the results showed a significantly higher percentage of overweight children with non-Caucasian biological fathers (45.5%) compared to those with Caucasian fathers (13.9%). This difference remained significant after controlling for the father’s BMI.

Finally, a significantly higher percentage of parents who slept less than seven hours per night had overweight children, compared to those who slept more hours (38.6% vs. 13.6%). This remained statistically significant after accounting for the BMI of the biological mother.

“In summary, this study demonstrates that associations can be made between the weight status of offspring based solely on parental [lifestyle and social determinants of health] and genetic data,” the researchers said. “These results could be relevant in the development of strategies aimed at reducing obesity and combating the increasing early-onset rate.”

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