Environmental and genetic risk factors in obesity

Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2009 Jan;18(1):83-94. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2008.07.006.


Because of its high prevalence and the associated medical and psychosocial risks, research into the causes of childhood obesity has experienced a tremendous upswing. Formal genetic data based on twin, adoption, and family studies lead to the conclusion that at least 50% of the interindividual variance of the body mass index (BMI; defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) is due to genetic factors. As a result of the recent advent of genome-wide association studies, the first polygenes involved in body weight regulation have been detected. Each of the predisposing alleles explain a few hundred grams of body weight. More polygenes will be detected in the near future, thus for the first time allowing in-depth analyses of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. They also will enable developmental studies to assess the effect of such alleles throughout childhood and adulthood. The recent increase in obesity prevalence rates illustrates the extreme relevance of environmental factors for body weight. Similar to polygenes, the effect sizes of most such environmental factors are likely to be small, thus rendering their detection difficult. In addition, the validation of the true causality of such factors is not a straightforward task. Important factors are socioeconomic status and television consumption. The authors conclude by briefly assessing implications for treatment and prevention of childhood obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Weight / genetics
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Epistasis, Genetic / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / physiology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Prejudice
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Television