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GIS-based study reveals factors of obesity in children

Penn State, US: Neither genes nor the environment alone can predict obesity in children, but when considered together, a strong relationship emerges, according to researchers at Penn State, St. Luke”s Roosevelt Hospital and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The researchers used GIS software to map the number of establishments that sold healthy food (fruit and vegetables) and high calorie, low-nutrient and fast foods within a one-half-mile and one-mile radius around the children”s homes. They then divided children into two groups based on whether they had healthier or unhealthier food stores within walking distance around their homes.

The results showed that neither the bitter taste of compounds, like 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) status nor the food environment, when considered alone, explained differences in children”s reported liking of fruit or vegetables or obesity status. However, the interaction between PROP status and the food environment did significantly affect children”s liking of vegetables and their body weights.

“On an average, non-taster children living in healthy food environments liked more vegetables and disliked fewer vegetables than taster children living in the same environment,” said Kathleen Keller, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and food science at Penn State. “On the other hand, non-taster children living in unhealthy food environments had higher levels of obesity compared to all other groups of children. Non-tasters who lived in unhealthy food environments had average body mass indexes over the 95th percentile, which is in the obese range. It is possible that non-tasters may have a tendency to like high-fat foods more, and when they are placed in an environment where these foods are plentiful, this may hasten the path to obesity. These findings also give us insight into the importance of our food environment in overcoming our genetic risk factors.”

The results appeared in the current issue of the journal Obesity. In future, the team plans to investigate whether an interaction exists between genes and the food environment in people living in a “car culture” in central Pennsylvania.

Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health. Other authors on the paper include Carlye Burd and Araliya Senerat of St. Luke”s Roosevelt Hospital, and Earle Chambers of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Source: Penn State University