When you're a kid, you often think you can eat whatever you want and get away with it. Watching your figure and dieting may be concerns you'll have when you're older, but for the moment you think, "Pass me another slice of cake, please!"
However, childhood obesity is a huge concern among today's youth. It has more than doubled in children and more than quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than one third of children and adolescents obese or overweight in 2012.
A recent study out of Columbia University may be able to change those alarming statistics. Researchers have found that although children have stronger cravings than teens and young adults, they may be able to control them.
In the study published in the journal "Psychological Science," researchers took MRI scans of 105 young people between the ages of 6 and 23 as they showed them images of different foods. During what the researchers called "close trials," they told the participants to picture that the foods were right in front of them and focus on the smell and taste of the foods. During "far trials," participants had to imagine that the foods were far away and had to focus on the visual aspects of the foods.
The researchers found that the participants reduced their cravings by 16 percent during the "far trials" when they didn't imagine the taste of the foods. This suggests that children may be able to implement self-discipline strategies to keep their cravings in check.
Researchers also found that children have stronger cravings than adolescents and adults. This may be because their prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain in charge of self-control, is less developed. That means researchers may be able to use these findings to help children develop better eating habits and to help scientists research how reward processing changes as one ages, said Jennifer A. Silvers, one of the authors of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia.
"These findings are important because they suggest that we may have another tool in our toolbox to combat childhood obesity," Silvers said.
Even though it seems like the gravity and wide reach of this issue is well known, society could use all the help it can get in understanding why we need to battle childhood obesity now. A recent study found that parents who could correctly determine if their children were overweight or obese decreased from 1988 to 2010. Researchers also recently found that fat-shaming doesn't help people lose weight.
Hopefully, the findings of this new study will help shed light on the right ways to tackle this pressing issue.