It's not just greed that keeps some people heading for the snack cupboard – a certain gene could play a major role in our over-indulgence, according to researchers at University College London.
The gene, found at the FTO gene locus, is found only in some people and kicks off binge-eating habits in adolescence.
Binge eating is characterised by a person having minimal control over what they consume, and the it is known to contribute to obesity. Currently, around one in 10 adults in the UK binge eats.
The scientists looked at data from 6,000 teenagers, gathered during the University of Bristol's Children of the 90s study, and used it to compare an individual's variant of the gene with their propensity to overeat. They found that the presence of one variant pushed up the chance of developing the habit by 20 per cent.
Women were found to be most vulnerable to the gene's effects, and are therefore on the whole more likely to be binge eaters in adolescence.
"This research offers an important first step towards understanding the genetic risk for binge eating and will help inform how we develop strategies to counter the obesity crisis,” said lead author Nadia Micalil.
Keeping obesity at bay
The problem of obesity is expanding rapidly – by 2030, McKinsey estimates almost half of the world's population will be overweight or obese.
This creates significant health risks globally, such as increased chances of developing heart disease. The resulting pressure placed on the world's healthcare systems is huge.
To minimise the burden, scientists are investing huge amounts in research into determining the causes of overeating, and in the development of treatments to try and prevent the problem escalating.
Yesterday, scientists in the US reported their discovery of a sixth taste called oleogustus, which they believe could be manipulated to alter our desire to eat fat.
In another attempt to help people control their eating habits, last month a computer game was unveiled which aims to minimise snacking in its users.