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The genomics of childhood eating behaviours

An Author Correction to this article was published on 16 February 2021

This article has been updated


Eating behaviours may be expressions of genetic risk for obesity and are potential antecedents of later eating disorders. However, childhood eating behaviours are heterogeneous and transient. Here we show associations between polygenic scores for body mass index (BMI-PGS) and anorexia nervosa (AN-PGS) with eating behaviour trajectories during the first 10 years of life using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), n = 7,825. Results indicated that 1 s.d. increase in the BMI-PGS was associated with a 30–37% increased risk for early- and mid-childhood overeating. In contrast, 1 s.d. increase in BMI-PGS was associated with a 20% decrease in risk of persistent high levels of undereating and a 15% decrease in risk of persistent fussy eating. There was no evidence for a significant association between AN-PGS and eating behaviour trajectories. Our results support the notion that child eating behaviours share common genetic variants associated with BMI.

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Fig. 1: Eating behaviour trajectories during the first 10 years of life.
Fig. 2: BMI-PGS and AN-PGS by trajectories of undereating, fussy eating and overeating.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

All code associated with the analyses is available upon request.

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We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses. This work was specifically funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Medical Research Foundation (MR/R004803/1). N.M. and C.M.B. report funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (R21 MH115397). The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (grant no. 102215/2/13/2) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. A comprehensive list of funding is available on the ALSPAC website. D.S.F. works in a Unit that receives funds from the University of Bristol and the UK Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00011/6). M.H. is supported by a fellowship from the UK Medical Research Council (MR/T027843/1). C.M.B. acknowledges funding from the Swedish Research Council (538-2013-8864), National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH109528) and the Klarman Family Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information




M.H., C.M.B., B.D.S., R.J.F.L., R.B.-W. and N.M. and devised the research. M.H., M.A., C.H. and B.D.S. analysed the data. All authors (M.H., M.A., C.H., D.S.F., R.J.F.L., R.B.-W., C.M.B, B.D.S, N.M.) interpreted the data and drafted the manuscript. All authors approved the submitted version and have agreed to be personally accountable for author’s own contributions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nadia Micali.

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Competing interests

C.M.B. is a Scientific Advisory Board Member for, and grant recipient from, Shire Pharmaceuticals (Takeda Pharmaceuticals); a consultant for Idorsia Pharmaceuticals; and author and royalty recipient from Pearson. All other authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Adam Locke, Jordi Merino and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Stavroula Kousta.

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Supplementary Tables 1–6 and Supplementary Fig. 1.

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Herle, M., Abdulkadir, M., Hübel, C. et al. The genomics of childhood eating behaviours. Nat Hum Behav 5, 625–630 (2021).

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