OCD Brain Region Impacted By Food Odors in Obese Kids

By Michael Cole

A study has shown that the part of the brain associated with the psychological disorder that causes people to act out obsessive behaviors was shown to become activated in overweight children when they were exposed to certain food odors. The study provides researchers with deeper insight into how obesity has a neurological factor and may offer clues toward new forms of treatment for weight loss.

In the U.S. alone, almost 12.7 million children suffer from obesity, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A whole range of health problems threaten obese children, ranging from high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing disorders, and joint problems. Compounded with these health risks is the fact that obese children are also much more likely to become obese adults. 

Breaking Down the Study

The new research was designed around 30 child participants between the ages of 6 and 10 years old. They were divided into two groups. The first group was composed of children with normal body mass indexes (BMI) of between 19 and 24. The second group included children with BMIs over 30, which is defined as obese by current medical standards.

All of the child participants were given odor samples to smell. These odor samples included the scent of onion, chocolate, and the diluted neutral chemical smell of acetone. While the participating children sniffed each sample, a magnetic resonance imaging device scanned their brains to determine which part of their brains became active in response to the smells.

When the brain scans were evaluated they showed that, for obese children, certain areas of the brain connected with impulsive action and the development of the psychological disease known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) became active, while the parts of the brain associated with impulse control showed no activity. On the other hand, for the children with normal BMIs, parts of the brain that have been linked to behaviors such as pleasure regulation, organization and planning, and other areas that regulate emotional processing and memory function, showed high levels of activity.

Furthermore, when the child participants of normal weight smelled the onion scent, a part of the brain known as the gustatory cortex -- which processes taste -- and another brain area linked to anticipation of reward both showed heightened activity. For the overweight children, this activity was absent.

However, the scent of chocolate created higher rates of activity in the brains of obese children in comparison to children of average weight.

The study provides hope for discovering a cure for obesity through neurochemistry. 

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Phoenix, Ariz.

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