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New research from the National Children’s Research Center, funded by the Children’s Medical Research Foundation (CMRF), has identified a link between child obesity and decreased effectiveness in the innate immune system among obese children.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed that one of the most important immune cells in the innate immune system – the invariant natural killer T cell – was much reduced in number and much less effective at doing its basic job in obese children.

According to Dr Declan Cody, senior paediatrician said, “This cell – the invariant natural killer T cell – has been described as a sensor and manager of inflammation, and when deficient or defective has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, so to see it already disappearing in children who are obese, is really worrying for their future risk”.

The study included 49 children from 6 to 16 years of age and showed that the children are switching on two types of genes that have been shown to be involved in type 2 diabetes and heart disease in adults. “These are very disturbing but fascinating findings” added Professor Carlos Blanco, head of the National Childrens Research Center, which funded the research.

Professor Blanco added: “The findings ultimately may allow us to predict those children most at risk of developing adult disease and therefore to target our interventions. In addition this work shows that the process of developing type 2 diabetes is well and truly underway at a genetic level in children as young as 6 years of age who are allowed to become obese”.

Professor Donal O’Shea, lead author on the study and Chairs the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland policy group on obesity.  He has presented the findings to the European Union Ministers for Health and The Coca Cola Company and said “These findings must be used to inform individuals, public policy and industry behaviour when it comes to our patterns of physical activity and food and drink consumption which are the main drivers of weight in children”.