Childhood obesity smallA mutated form of a gene which regulates appetite and energy balance that is passed down by parents could be responsible for a child's susceptibility to obesity, New York-based researchers have suggested.

The gene, CEP19, can give people an increased disposition to gain weight and Dr John Martignetti from the Icahn School of Medicine believes it is "fundamental to regulating nutritional status".

"If we are going to combat the disease of obesity, we need to understand its medical basis and this gene is known to be present from [obese] humans down to the simplest single-cell animals," added Dr Martignetti.

His team made the finding from a study of a large Arab family in which 13 members were morbidly obese and compared their biological data to their 31 relatives of normal weight. 

The common factor was found to be the mututated form of the CEP19 gene in all cases, which follow-up tests on mice showed that removal of the gene made the animals fatter, diabetic and hungrier. 

Their findings suggest that the mutation may also lead to reduced male fertility and are the latest to highlight a potential link between obesity and genetics. 

However, Prof David Haslam from the National Obesity Forum has warned those with obesity issues not to avoid seeking treatment as gene therapy remains "generations away" from becoming a possible solution.