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"Our study is the first to look at levels of spexin in the pediatric population," said Dr. Seema Kumar, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Previous studies in adults concluded that spexin is likely involved in regulating the body's energy balance and fat mass.
For this study, researchers assessed levels of spexin in 51 obese and 18 normal-weight teens, ages 12 to 18.
Teens with the lowest levels of spexin were more than five times as likely to be obese than those with the highest levels of the hormone, the researchers found.
The study was published online May 24 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"Previous research has found reduced levels of this hormone in adults with obesity. Overall, our findings suggest spexin may play a role in weight gain beginning at an early age," Kumar said in a journal news release.
"It is noteworthy that we see such clear differences in spexin levels between obese and lean adolescents," she said.
However, more research is needed to explore how spexin might be involved in the development of childhood obesity and whether it can be used to treat or manage the condition, Kumar added.
Also, the researchers only found an association, rather than a cause-and-effect link, in this study.
About 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, which increases their risk for serious and costly health conditions. Childhood obesity costs $14 billion in additional prescription drugs, and emergency room and outpatient visits each year, according to the Endocrine Society.
-- Robert Preidt
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