Obesity, reward and genetics

Urmeli Katus
About the Author

Urmeli Joost is a PhD student at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of Tartu, Estonia. Her main focus of research is the genetic, environmental and behavioural factors in obesity, dyslipidemia and glucose metabolism.


What was the goal of your research or experiment?

It is thought that how sensitive an individual is to rewards plays a role in obesity. However, research findings about the role of reward sensitivity in obesity have so far been inconsistent. One explanation is that reward sensitivity is a complex construct that includes several different aspects of processing and responding to rewards. In this study we investigated different aspects of reward sensitivity for their association with obesity. We also looked at the role of a particular gene called TFAP2B. A particular variant in this gene has previously been linked to obesity.

How did you measure this?

We used data from the longitudinal Estonian Children Personality Behaviour and Health Study that includes 1176 children that were tested at ages of 9, 15, 18, 25 and 33 years.

What were the main results or findings?

We found that adolescents (15–25 years old) that are highly fixated on certain rewards also scored higher on obesity measures. This means that indeed there is a relationship between (a particular aspect of) reward sensitivity and obesity. However, we did not find associations for other aspects such as Openness to Rewards. We also found that girls who had the TFAP2B genetic variant were more fixated on rewards. However, we found no evidence for a mediating role of this genetic variant, between reward sensitivity and obesity.

What does this mean?

We concluded that the reward fixation component of reward sensitivity is associated with obesity, but not other aspects of reward sensitivity. This means that it is indeed important to disentangle the different components of how individuals respond to rewards. In addition, we found no evidence that certain genetic variants indirectly influence obesity through their influence on reward sensitivity.  

What’s the next step?

Next, we are planning to assess the association between the reward sensitivity constructs and physical activity.

To read the entire article, click here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2020.135158

You can also read the author’s blog post on the research on the TFAP2B gene: https://newbrainnutrition.com/how-the-gene-called-tfap2b-may-increase-the-risk-for-obesity/

Publication information

Title: The role of reward sensitivity in obesity and its association with Transcription Factor AP-2B: A longitudinal birth cohort study

Authors:  Urmeli Katus, Inga Villa, Inge Ringmets, Aleksander Pulver, Toomas Veidebaum, Jaanus Harro

Journal: Neuroscience Letters;

Year: 2020

Url: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2020.135158