Obese children’s brains react differently to the smell of food

    25 November 2015

    For obese children, the smell of food activates the area of the brain associated with impulsivity and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to research by one of Mexico’s leading radiologists.

    Dr Pilar Dies-Suarez will present the results of the study at next week’s annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

    ‘In order to fight obesity, it is crucial to understand the brain mechanisms of odour stimulus. This study has given us a better understanding that obesity has a neurological disorder component, and the findings have the potential to affect treatment of obese patients,’ he said.

    In Britain almost a quarter of children under the age of five are overweight or obese, according to research carried out by Leeds Beckett university. Obese children have a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious health problems.

    The researchers performed an odour sample experiment on 30 children, half of whom had a healthy BMI. The other half had a BMI over 30, which is classified as obese. Each child was presented with three samples: chocolate, onion and a neutral odour of diluted acetone.

    Their brain activity was recorded during the test using MRI scanners. It was found that in obese children, the food triggered activation in the areas of the brain associated with impulse and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    Children with a healthy BMI showed increased activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure regulation, organisation and planning, and regions governing emotional processing or memory function.

    The chocolate smell prompted more significant connections in the brains of obese children compared to normal-weight children.

    Dr Dies-Suarez said: ‘If we are able to identify the mechanisms that cause obesity, we will be able to change the way we treat these patients, and in turn, reduce obesity prevalence and save lives.’