It may be necessary to tweak brain function when it comes to preventing or addressing obesity, according to a new study. Practicing mindfulness could then be a key.
The new research found that diet and exercise may no longer be enough to fight obesity, as the brains of kids with a heightened obesity risk work differently from the brains of healthy-weight kids. The former may have an imbalance in their food-seeking and food-behaving attitudes.
The findings of the team from Vanderbilt University Medical Center were published in the journal Heliyon.
The researchers recommended mindfulness practice, a natural therapy for focusing awareness, as a technique to promote healthy eating as well as weight loss among kids.
Senior study author and associate professor Dr. Kevin Niswender said in a press release that both adults and kids are typically conditioned to eat more. According to him, this can put youngsters at a greater obesity risk given the abundance of accessible, highly marketed high-energy food.
“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity,” reported co-senior author and professor Dr. Ronald Cowan.
The team analyzed 38 children, with five deemed as obese and six who were overweight. They assessed their eating habits through a questionnaire and studied their brain function through MRI.
As weight increased in the subjects, the connectivity between brain regions changed. Unhealthy dietary behaviors as well as obesity led to the functional connectivity of brain regions linked to response inhibition, impulsivity, and reward to become imbalanced.
Mindfulness is recommended for increasing response inhibition and reducing impulsivity, encouraging a positive response to daily temptations and challenges.
Few studies, however, have explored its role in childhood obesity, and the method has yielded mixed results in weight loss and control among adults. Potentially causing these mixed outcomes in adults are the greater effects of obesity in adulthood as well as age-related brain plasticity loss.
In the United States, childhood obesity has almost doubled in the last three decades and tripled among adolescents. A third of American children back in 2010 were already classified as obese or overweight.
Photo: Riley Kaminer | Flickr