London – Obese children have areas of damage in their brains, researchers have warned. Scans examining the brains of overweight teenagers found they had inflamed areas of white matter – the “wiring” of the brain – which may make it harder for them to control their eating habits.
The study, presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting in Chicago, involved 120 children aged 12 to 16, of which 59 were obese and 61 were a healthy weight.
MRI scans of the obese teenagers’ brains showed a relative decrease in white matter in the middle orbitofrontal gyrus – a region related to emotional control and the reward circuit – and that cells had been destroyed in the corpus callosum, which could reduce attention span.
Obese children were also found to overproduce leptin – an appetite-controlling hormone. In some overweight people, the brain does not respond to leptin, causing them to keep eating despite adequate or excessive fat stores.
The scientists are not sure whether the changes to the children’s brains were a result of obesity or conversely whether the altered white matter caused over-eating.
Researcher Dr Pamela Bertolazzi, of Sao Paulo University in Brazil, said: “We would like to repeat brain MRI in these adolescents after multi-professional treatment for weight loss to assess if the brain changes are reversible or not.”
High consumption of fatty foods during adolescence may in fact impair cognitive functions in adulthood, according to a 2016 study conducted by researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, which was published in the medical journal “Molecular Psychiatry”.
The scientists arrived at this worrying conclusion after performing a study comparing the impact on the brains of juvenile and adult mice on being fed either an extremely high-fat diet or normal food, the World Economic Forum website reported.