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Behavioural susceptibility theory: the role of appetite in genetic susceptibility to obesity in early life

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Excess weight gained during the early years and, in particular, rapid weight gain in the first 2 years of life, are a major risk factors for adult obesity. The growing consensus is that childhood obesity develops from a complex interaction between genetic susceptibility and exposure to an ‘obesogenic’ environment. Behavioural susceptibility theory (BST) was developed to explain the nature of this gene–environment interaction, and why the ‘obesogenic’ environment does not affect all children equally. It hypothesizes that inherited variation in appetite, which is present from birth, determines why some infants and children overeat, and others do not, in response to environmental opportunity. That is, those who inherit genetic variants promoting an avid appetite are vulnerable to overeating and developing obesity, while those who are genetically predisposed to have a smaller appetite and lower interest in food are protected from obesity—or even at risk of being underweight. We review the breadth of research to-date that has contributed to the evidence base for BST, focusing on early life, and discuss implications and future directions for research and theory. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Causes of obesity: theories, conjectures and evidence (Part I)’.


Peer reviewed: True

Publication status: Published

Funder: MQ: Mental Health Research; Grant(s): MQF17/4


appetite, genes, environment, behavioural susceptibility theory, obesity

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

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The Royal Society
Rosetrees Trust (M749)