Balance in brain networks in children who are obese is different, paying attention with purpose and being in the present moment avoids obesity.

childrenA new study, by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine published in the journal of Heliyon, has revealed that paying attention, being in the present moment with acceptance and having a purpose is an effective way to avoid obesity in children.

Identifying children at risk for obesity early on and using mindfulness approaches to control eating may be one way to approach weight management as long lasting weight loss requires changes in how the brain functions.

“We know the brain plays a big role in obesity in adults, but what we understand about the neurological connections associated with obesity might not apply to children,” explained lead author BettyAnn Chodkowski, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We wanted to look at the way children’s brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are obese.”

The scientists identified three areas of the brain that may be associated with weight and eating habits: the inferior parietal lobe, which is associated with inhibition, the ability to override an automatic response (in this case eating); the frontal pole, which is associated with impulsivity; and the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward.

The data analyzed was obtained by the Enhanced Nathan Kline Institute and consisted of data from 38 children aged 8-13. Data included children’s weights and their answers to the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire, which describes the children’s eating habits. The researchers also used MRI scans that showed the function of the three regions of the brain they wanted to study.

“Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more,” said Dr. Niswender, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This is great from an evolutionary perspective — they need food to grow and survive. But in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”

The study findings revealed a preliminary link between weight, eating behavior and balance in brain function. Impulsivity is increased in children who behave in ways that make them eat more. Being impulsive appears to be more strongly connected than the part of the brain associated with inhibition; in children who behave in ways that help them avoid food, the part of the brain associated with inhibition is more strongly connected compared to the part of the brain associated with being impulsive.

“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity,” said Dr. Cowan, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults, but so far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children.”


1.BettyAnn A. Chodkowski, Ronald L. Cowan, Kevin D. Niswender. Imbalance in resting state functional connectivity is associated with eating behaviors and adiposity in children. Heliyon, 2016; 2 (1): e00058 DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2015.e00058

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