Researchers have unlocked the key to children’s early years growth and development

Researchers have unlocked the key to children’s early years growth and development

by Freya Lucas

March 31, 2022

Small babies put on huge amounts of weight relative to their overall size in the first years of life. Researchers from Norway’s University of Bergen have found that the rate at which this happens is largely controlled by our genes, with their findings providing insight into the mechanisms that control appetite and energy metabolism early in life. 


The researchers hope that their work will support others to find better treatments for obesity in adolescence and adulthood. They studied the genes of 30,000 children and their parents from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort of Norway. Many millions of genetic variants from each individual were examined and linked to growth data from a series of measurements of height and weight from birth to eight years of age.


After birth, humans grow fast. Length increases by about 50 per cent and weight typically doubles during infancy. Then the growth slows down and goes into a stable phase in childhood until a growth spurt in puberty. But what drives this dynamic growth?


“It turned out that genes linked to extreme obesity, appetite and the body’s energy consumption are responsible for the growth regulation,” Professor Pål R. Njølstad explained.


“This is dynamic in that specific genes have an effect only on some of the different phases of growth. We believe that this is probably one of the reasons why parents have always noted that some children are born with a naturally higher appetite than others and have significantly more fat mass in infancy. It seems that these dynamic effects are especially important in the first years of life, and that they do not increase the risk of later obesity,” he continued.


Some of the genes are linked to drugs that are being tested to slow weight gain in extreme obesity. The findings may therefore be important for the treatment of normal obesity. 


The results have been published in the journal Nature Metabolism with the full study available to view here