Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, United States, have found that brains of obese children function differently from kids who have a healthy weight. Obese kids tend to overeat, so diet and exercise may not be enough to restore their normal weight. 

What is needed is mindfulness — a therapeutic technique to focus awareness — in eating so that obese kids lose weight.

“Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more. This is great from an evolutionary perspective, but in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity,” said senior author Kevin Niswender, M.D., Ph.D.
b’Representational image | Source: AFP’

The study was published in the journal Heliyon.

“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity. Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults. So far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children,” added co-senior author Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D. 
b’Representational image | Source: AFP’

As many as 38 children were included in the experiment conducted by Vanderbilt University. Their eating behaviour were analysed and their brain functions were studied using the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

There are three parts in the brain that are associated with eating habits. The nucleus accumbens, associated with reward-motivated behaviors; the frontal pole, associated with impulsivity; and the inferior parietal lobe (IPL), associated with response inhibition, the ability to inhibit or override a response such as overeating, the study explained. 

MRI reports of children with different weights were used to find out the balance of functional neural connectivity and the three parts of the brain mentioned above. 

“We wanted to look at the way (their) brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are overweight and obese,” said BettyAnn Chodkowski, graduate student at Vanderbilt. 
b’Representational image | Source: AFP’

During the experiment, they noticed that for kids with more weight, the connectivity between the inhibition-associated IPL and reward-associated nucleus accumbens decreased, while connectivity between the nucleus accumbens and the impulsivity-associated frontal pole increased.

This experiment suggested that unhealthy eating habits and obesity could show an imbalance in the functional connection of the brain areas which response to inhibition, impulsivity and reward.

However the practice of mindfulness can decrease the impulsiveness and can increase response inhibition.

Feature image: Representational image | Source: AFP