Brain Reward Gene Influences Food Choices in First Year of Life

Research has suggested that a particular gene in the brain's reward system contributes to overeating and obesity in adults. This same variant (the seven-repeat allele of the dopamine receptor 4 gene—DRD4) has now been linked to childhood obesity and tasty food choices, particularly for girls, according to a new study by Dr. Patricia Silveira and Professor Michael Meaney of McGill University and Dr. Robert Levitan of the University of Toronto. Contrary to "blaming" obese individuals for making poor food choices, Dr. Meaney and his team suggest that obesity lies at the interface of three factors: genetic predispositions, environmental stress, and emotional well-being. These findings, published in the February 2014 issue of the journal, Appetite, shed light on why some children may be predisposed to obesity, and could mark a critical step towards prevention and treatment. "In broad terms, we are finding that obesity is a product of genetics, early development, and circumstance", says Dr. Meaney, who is also Associate Director of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Research Centre. The work is part of the MAVAN (Maternal Adversity Vulnerability & Neurodevelopment) project, headed by Dr. Meaney and Dr. Hélène Gaudreau, Project Coordinator. Their team studied pregnant women, some of whom suffered from depression or lived in poverty, and followed their children from birth until the age of ten. For the study, researchers tested 150 four-year old MAVAN children by administering a snack test meal. The children were faced with healthy and non-healthy food choices. Mothers also completed a questionnaire to address their child's normal food consumption and preferences.
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