A variation of a gene that can lead teenagers to binge eat has been identified by researchers.
Researchers hope the finding will allow a better understanding of why binge eating develops, and inform the development of future preventative strategies for teens at risk before they become overweight or obese.
Around ten per cent of adults and teenagers binge eat (excessively overeat with a feeling of losing control over what they are consuming) and binge eating is most common in individuals who are overweight or obese, researchers said.
While it has been established that a combination of genetic and environmental factors lead to eating disorders, until now there has been limited research into how specific genes increase the likelihood of binge eating behaviours in adolescence that can lead to obesity.
A team, led by Dr Nadia Micali at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Child Health and Professor David Evans, who carried out some of the work while at University of Bristol, analysed data from 6,000 participants in the Children of the 90s (ALSPAC) study, also based at Bristol, when they were aged 14 and 16.
Genetic variations associated with higher BMI (Body Mass Index) and obesity risk were investigated to see if they also predicted binge eating.
The researchers found that if a young person had a particular variation in the FTO gene locus (rs1558902), they were over 20 per cent more likely to binge eat.
The pattern was particularly evident in girls, who were 30 per cent more likely to binge eat if they had the variation.
“This research offers an important first step towards understanding the genetic risk for binge eating and will help inform how we develop strategies to counter the obesity crisis,” said lead author Micali.
“We now know variations in the FTO gene can predict binge eating in teenagers, and binge eating in turn can predict obesity,” said Micali.
“Eventually this finding could allow us to develop more targeted treatment for binge eating, and enable much earlier intervention so young people don’t develop obesity,” Micali added.
The study was published in the journal Obesity.