Researchers at UCL and the universities of Bristol and Queensland have identified a gene mutation that could lead to binge eating in teenagers.
This is the first conclusive evidence showing the link between specific genes and binge eating behaviour in adolescents. It could help find preventive strategies for those at risk.
The team, led by Dr Nadia Micali at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Professor David Evans, who was at Bristol initially before moving to Queensland's Diamantina Institute and MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, analysed data from a Bristol study involving 6,000 participants.
They were all aged between 14 and 16.
Teenagers with a particular variation in the FTO gene location (rs1558902) were over 20% more likely to binge eat, with girls showing a 30% likelihood.
Lead author Dr Nadia Micali, senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist at the UCL Institute for Child Health and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said: "We now know variations in the FTO gene can predict binge eating in teenagers, and binge eating in turn can predict obesity. Eventually this finding could allow us to develop more targeted treatment for binge eating, and enable much earlier intervention so young people don't develop obesity."
It has been known that genetic and environmental factors are responsible for the eating disorder.
One out of ten adults and teenagers overeat with a feeling of losing control over what they are consuming. Such binge eating has been seen mostly in people who are overweight or obese.
Obesity per se has been shown earlier to have a genetic link when scientists discovered around 140 gene regions linked to obesity when studying DNA libraries of more than 339,224 people.
Seven out of 10 adults are obese in some parts of the UK.
The World Health Organization has projected that 74% of men and 64% of women in the UK will be overweight by 2030.
According to UK government estimates, the cost of obesity will rise to £50bn by 2050, placing a heavy strain on the health services.
The UK also has the second-highest proportion of overweight children as compared to 28 other countries, said a Leeds Beckett University study.