Is Obesity Wired Into Some Children’s Brains? – WebMD

Is Obesity Wired Into Some Children’s Brains?

By Tara Haelle

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Obese children may have difficulty resisting food because of how their brain is wired, a new study suggests.

The small study found that food smells activated the parts of their brains related to impulsive behavior and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is characterized by recurrent thoughts and repetitive behaviors. This did not occur in children of a normal, healthy weight, researchers reported.

The findings suggest that children with obesity are not able to stop eating, said study author Dr. Pilar Dies-Suarez, head of radiology at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital of Mexico in Mexico City. “Thus, treatment of obesity must focus on the impulsivity problem,” she said.

But researchers only saw an association between impulsive brain reactions and children’s weight. It’s not conclusive which one caused the other.

The findings were to be presented Tuesday at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting in Chicago.

The researchers used two types of MRI to compared brain imaging results from 30 children, ages 6 to 10. During the MRI, the children smelled chocolate, onion and a non-food smell of diluted acetone, the active ingredient in nail polish remover.

Half the children had a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 24, considered to be a healthy or normal weight, and half had a BMI over 30, considered obese.

When the children with obesity smelled the chocolate or onion, the researchers saw activity in the part of their brain involved in impulsive decisions but did not see activity in the part of the brain that controls the impulse to eat, Dies-Suarez said. When the children with normal BMI smelled food, the researchers saw activity in parts of the brain related to regulating pleasure, planning and emotional processing or memory.

The brain responses in children with obesity were also much greater when they smelled the chocolate and the onion compared to the responses in the normal-weight kids. When the obese children smelled the acetone, the active parts of their brain were related to memories and risk assessment.