A gene linked to obesity which makes ice cream and sugary foods tastier for girls has been discovered by scientists.
Scientists say the discovery of the gene means it might not be our fault if we make poor food choices - and could partly help explain obesity.
Contrary to 'blaming' obese people for making poor food choices, the Canadian researchers say that obesity is caused by genetic predisposition, environmental stress and emotional wellbeing.
They discovered a gene variant - or allele - which regulates the production of the pleasure hormone, dopamine.
The findings, published in the journal Appetite, could be an important step towards prevention and treatment of the condition, they say.
Professor Michael Meaney of McGill University, Montreal, said: "In broad terms, we are finding that obesity is a product of genetics, early development and circumstance."
He and his team tested 150 four-year old children from a project involving mothers whose depression makes it hard for them to bond with their children.
The team studied pregnant women, some of whom suffered from depression or lived in poverty, and followed their children from birth until the age of 10.
The 150 children were offered a snack, and given the choice of healthy and non healthy food.
Mothers also completed a questionnaire about their children's eating habits.
Dr. Patricia Silveira, from McGill University, said: "We found that a variation in a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine, which regulates the individual's response to tasty food, predicted the amount of 'comfort' foods - highly palatable foods such as ice cream, candy or calorie-laden snacks - selected and eaten by the children.
"This effect was especially important for girls who we found carried the genetic allele that decreases dopamine function."
"Most importantly, the amount of comfort food eaten during the snack test in the four-year-olds predicted the body weight of the girls at six years of age," Professor Meaney added.
"Our research indicates that genetics and emotional well-being combine to drive consumption of foods that promote obesity.
"The next step is to identify vulnerable children, as there may be ways for prevention and counselling in early obesity stages."
- DAILY MAIL