LONDON - When it comes to cookies, some children really can't help themselves, British researchers say.
In an experiment, researchers offered 131 4- to 5-year-olds a plate of cookies after they had eaten a meal.
They found that the children who ate more cookies were more likely to have certain variations of the FTO gene, a gene linked to larger body size, suggesting that for some overeating is genetically programed.
"This research ... tells us more about how some children are more responsive to signals in their bodies encouraging them to eat when full than others," said Jane Wardle of University College London, who led the study.
"Knowing how the genes work is the first step to minimizing these negative effects," she said in a statement.
Obesity, which raises the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems, has increasingly become a global problem with people exercising less and leading more sedentary lifestyles.
The World Health Organization classifies about 400 million people around the world as obese.
FTO has been long linked to obesity. Studies have shown people with two copies of the "obese" version of the gene on average weigh nearly 7 pounds more and are about 70 percent more likely to be obese than those with other versions.
The researchers also looked for a genetic connection between the gene and children's interest in exercise but did not find one, they reported in the International Journal of Obesity.
"We hope this research will help improve our understanding of the causes of childhood obesity so that better measures can be taken to reduce it," Wardle said.
"Children with higher risk versions of the gene might be helped if parents do their bit to keep temptations out of the home."