UK scientists have identified a gene associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes in European populations.

Crucially, the gene – dubbed ENPP1 – seems to be linked to both childhood and adult obesity, raising the prospect of developing a diagnostic method to catch people predisposed to overweight as early as possible.

Professor Philippe Froguel of Imperial College London and Hammersmith Hospital, who headed the research team, said: “If we can identify those at risk at an earlier age, it may be possible to take preventative measures earlier on, and reduce the burden of ill health caused by obesity in later life.”

The study also found a link between ENPP1 and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and the researchers believe that ENPP1 could be a factor in controlling insulin resistance, where the body does not respond to its own insulin, allowing blood sugar levels to rise too high. The finding is published in the journal Nature Genetics,

“The identification of ENPP1 as a molecular mechanism for obesity and diabetes means we may be able to use it as a target to develop new therapies and treatments, ultimately leading to more effective ways of treating diabetes,” said Prof Froguel.