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Obese Children ‘Wired From Birth’ to Crave Sugar

Scans may be documenting early development of food reward circuitry in young children…

A study suggests that children who are obese may overeat because they crave more sugar than slimmer youngsters.

Brain scans showed that their reward centers are stimulated more intensely when they are exposed to sweet flavors. Scientists do not know if the change happens over time, or if some children are wired from birth to pile on the pounds because they have a biological impulse to seek out sugary foods.

The researchers studied 23 eight to 12 year olds, ten of whom were obese and the others who were a normal weight. They found neurons in the former group’s insular cortex and amygdala, regions of the brain involved in taste, motivation and reward, were unusually lively when they were given a sugary teaspoon of water.

Notably, they did not show any heightened brain cell activity in the striatum that is also part of the response and reward circuitry and whose activity has, in other studies, been associated with obesity in adults. But the striatum does not develop fully until adolescence.

The researchers said their scans may be documenting, for the first time, the early development of the food reward circuitry in young children.

An 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 that predispose them to crave more sugar throughout life.

In the study the children were given a fifth of a teaspoon of water mixed with table sugar and asked to swirl it in the mouth with their eyes closed, while focusing on its taste.

According to studies, children who are obese have more than an 8O percent chance of growing up to become obese adults.

Practice Pearls:

  • Children who are obese may over-eat because they crave more sugar than slimmer youngsters.
  • Some children have brain circuitries that predispose them to crave more sugar throughout life.
  • According to studies, children who are obese have more than an 8O percent chance of growing up to become obese adults.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Obesity, Dec. 2012.