Our frozen ancestors of the Ice Age needed plenty of fat in their diets to keep warm - and it seems we might still be carrying their genetic torch.

For British scientists have discovered a DNA switch in the brain that they believe makes Europeans far more likely to binge on fatty food than those living in the East.

The researchers from Aberdeen University made their discovery after comparing the DNA of people with the genetic code of birds and mice.

© AlamyFrozen food: Scientists think our love of fatty meals can be traced to the Ice Age

They found a switch - a piece of DNA that turns genes on or off within cells - which controls the galanin gene.

This gene is switched on in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus and regulates appetite and thirst.

The switch comes in different varieties. A weaker version was found in 16 per cent of Europeans - compared with 30 per cent of Asians studied.

Dr Alasdair MacKenzie, who led the study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, said: 'The switch controls the area of the brain which allows us to select which foods we would like to eat and if it is turned on too strongly we are more likely to crave fatty foods.

'The fact that the weaker switch is found more frequently in Asians compared with Europeans suggests they are less inclined to select such options.

'These results give us a glimpse into early European life. A preference for food with a higher fat content would have been important for survival.

'The negative effects of fat and alcohol we see today would not have mattered so much then as life expectancies were between 30 and 40 years.'

The researchers say the study could pave the way for obesity treatments.