A new study of obesity predictors in children has found that a poor diet and weight gain are intertwined in a vicious cycle, where the more unhealthy food that is consumed the greater the cravings are for even more unhealthy food. And all of this can be read from an MRI scan of your brain. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
The Yale-led study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had examined the long-known but poorly understood connection between inflammation and obesity. Researchers analyzed a set of data collected from over 11,000 children, using a highly specialized brain-imaging technique to analyze cell density in a region of the brain that’s involved in reward motivation and eating behavior. What they found was that the greater concentration of these cells—which is understood to represent inflammation in the brain—the larger the waist circumference of the child.
And not only was the cell density aka neuroinflammation correlated to the waist circumference, which is an indicator of obesity, but it could also predict the child’s future weight gain. “An even more impressive finding was that the density of cells in this region predicted increases in waist circumference and body mass index one year later,” said Kristina Rapuano, a psychology postdoctoral fellow at Yale and first author on the study.
This means that obesity may be causing an inflammatory response in the brain, which in turn causes more overeating and even poorer eating habits. And while this study was conducted on children, childhood obesity has been shown to be a strong predictor of obesity later in life.
According to BJ Casey, one of the co-authors of the study, rates of childhood obesity worldwide have quadrupled over the past 40 years, and these findings may bring us closer to understanding and preventing it. “This study is a step towards better understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying childhood weight gain, which will be critically important to inform early intervention and obesity prevention strategies,” Casey said.
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