Most children enjoy sweet foods and display a preference for them even at an early age. However, a recent study shows that the brains of obese children are hypersensitive to sugar.
In a study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers have found a link between sugar hypersensitivity and obese children. These findings may indicate an increased psychological response to a perceived food reward, which some scientists believe can lead to overeating.
Dangers of food reward-seeking behavior
A food reward is an internal motivation for food, and a “feel good” response from it. It is conceivable that obese children could be predisposed by brain responses to craving sugary foods and obtaining a perceived food reward. As opposed to healthy-weight children, these obese children could be born with a predisposition to facing a lifelong battle with sugar cravings.
In the study, researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine scanned the brains of 23 children. The age ranges of the children was between 8 and 12. The brain images obtained during the study showed that obese children had significantly increased activity in the amygdala and insular cortex areas of the brain. These are the portions of the brain directly involved in emotion, awareness, perception, motivation, taste and reward.
It was observed that there was no increased neuronal activity in the striatum region of the brain, which has shown response-reward circuitry activation in obese adults. However, this could be because the striatum is not fully developed until adolescence.
Differences are detected even in young children
“That we can detect these brain differences in children as young as eight years old is the most remarkable and clinically significant part of the study,” said first author Kerri Boutelle, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and founder of the University’s Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research (CHEAR).
Boutelle adds, “this study is a wake-up call that prevention has to start very early because some children may be born with a hypersensitivity to food rewards or they may be able to learn a relationship between food and feeling better faster than other children.”
Currently, it is estimated that one-third of children in America (4 to 5 million individuals) are overweight or obese. Statistically, obese children have an 80 to 90 percent likelihood of remaining obese into adulthood. That being said, they are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, endocrine and orthopedic conditions and cancer.
Adults have similar food reward responses to sugar
In a similar study aimed at adults, the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine adult brain responses and motivation to eat when viewing images of food after drinking a beverage with one of two kinds of sugar.
Some of the participants had a beverage with fructose, while the others drank a beverage with glucose. Fructose is a simple sugar added to many foods in a refined form. Glucose is the energy source for the body taken from the processing of complex carbohydrates.
The fMRI scans showed heightened activity in the “reward circuit” of the brain after viewing the food images, significantly more in the subjects who had consumed the fructose drink. The fructose drink subjects also reported higher recordings of hunger and desire to eat then compared to the subjects who drank the glucose beverage.
Sugar has been proven to be highly dangerous for both children and adults. In order to prevent the many health complications that can arise from its consumption, the simple solution is to stay away from it. Do not keep sugary snacks in the house where they may be tempting, and do not offer these to children as rewards.
If we do not allow sugar into our lives, it will be powerless to control us, and we will be taking an important step in lowering our risk of some of our nation’s most serious health issues.
-The Alternative Daily