a1 Division of Obesity and Metabolic Health, Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK
The proportion of the child and adolescent population that is in appropriate energy balance is declining throughout the developed world, and childhood obesity is a particular problem in the UK relative to other northern European countries. Assessment of the underlying causes of obesity, and the different routes to its development, may assist in the definition of successful intervention strategies. The network of peripheral and central (brain) regulatory systems that underlie energy balance and body weight and composition can, for the most part, only be approached experimentally through the study of appropriate laboratory animal models. This problem is particularly acute when the target is overweight and obesity in the young. Some of the mechanisms underlying the development of energy imbalance and specifically the onset of overweight and obesity in the young, and the metabolic health consequences of obesity, can be addressed by examination of experimental rodent models in which mutation of a single gene causes early-onset extreme obesity, genetic susceptibility to obesity is revealed in an obesogenic environment or early-life nutritional experience programmes susceptibility to obesity or metabolic problems in later life. These studies highlight genes that are essential to normal body-weight regulation in rodents and man, the impact of diet and diet-induced obesity on regulatory systems in the young and the potential sensitivity of developing regulatory systems to nutritional experiences in utero and during early life.
(Online publication August 20 2008)