Overweight and obese children may feel much better by consuming food than their slimmer counterparts as researchers found that the brains of obese kids are hypersensitive to sugar.
The findings support the argument that obesity prevention must start early in life and kids should be made aware of the relationship between food and feeling better.
“The take-home message is that obese children, compared to healthy weight children, have enhanced responses in their brain to sugar,” said first author Kerri Boutelle, professor from University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
Although the study does not show a causal relationship between sugar hypersensitivity and overeating but it does support the idea that an obese youth may have a heightened psychological reward response to food.
This elevated sense of “food reward” – which involves being motivated by food and deriving a good feeling from it could mean some children have brain circuitries which predispose them to crave more sugar throughout life.
For the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 23 children, ranging in age from 8 to 12, while they tasted one-fifth of a teaspoon of water mixed with sucrose (table sugar).
The children were directed to swirl the sugar-water mix in the mouth with their eyes closed, while focusing on its taste.
The brain images showed that obese children had heightened activity in the regions of brain involved in perception, emotion, awareness, taste, motivation and reward.
The study appeared in the journal International Journal of Obesity.