Some children are genetically predisposed to overeating in response to television food ads

Sept. 29, 2016, Lebanon, N.H. – Exposure to food ads on television leads to overeating among children, especially those genetically predisposed to obesity, researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the C. Everett Koop Institute have shown. In the Dartmouth study, a particular gene that has been linked previously to obesity is now shown to play a role in overeating among children exposed to food cues such as TV food advertising.

In a randomized experiment, 172 children aged 9-10 years ate lunch until they were full and then were immediately shown a 34-minute television show that contained either food or toy advertisements at normal commercial breaks. The children were given snacks that they could eat while watching the show. The researchers then measured how much the children ate and tested them for genetic variations in the Fat Mass and Obesity Associated Gene, known as FTO.

The results of the study showed that children who watched food advertisements consumed an average of 41% more calories of a recently advertised food than those who watched ads for toys. The study further showed that the effect of food advertisements on overeating differed by FTO genotype, with the effect more than three times as large for children at the highest genetic risk.

"This study shows that children overeat in response to TV food ads even when they are not hungry. More importantly, some children are genetically prone to eat much more in response to those cues," said Diane Gilbert-Diamond, ScD. "The findings may help us understand how genes predispose people to obesity by amplifying the response to environmental food cues. If that finding is confirmed, limiting exposure to food advertising and other food cues would be key to combating child obesity," she added. Obesity is a known risk factor for cancer, diabetes and other health problems.

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The study, "Television Food Advertisement Exposure and FTO rs9939609 Genotype in Relation to Excess Consumption in Children," appears in the International Journal of Obesity.

Dr. Gilbert is affiliated with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the Koop Institute at Dartmouth, and an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Co-authors of the paper include Drs. J. Emond, R.K. Lansigan, K.M. Rapuano, W.M. Kelley, T.F. Heatherton and J. Sargent, all of Dartmouth.

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 45 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute's "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at cancer.dartmouth.edu.

About the C. Everett Koop Institute

Named in honor of the esteemed U.S. Surgeon General, the Koop Institute at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth aims to promote behavior change at individual, community and corporate levels in the interest of preventing non-communicable diseases like cancer worldwide. The Institute's mission is to promote health and wellbeing through disease prevention. The Institute seeks to enhance our understanding of the threats to health posed by consumer products – tobacco, alcohol, licit and illicit drugs, energy-dense foods and toxic chemicals – and to inform policies and interventions to protect the public health.

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