Teen obesity has been rising and becoming a global headache, for now, for more than a decade. Obesity for a teenager occurs when his or her body mass index (BMI) is more than 95 percent greater as compared to other teenagers of the same gender and age.
It is no surprise then that obesity rates among Pakistan youngsters have skyrocketed. Obese teens have several health problems.
They are at high risk of developing complications like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Parents need to set an example on this issue. If they are treated poorly, they may become targets of depression, loneliness or idle behavior.
Public health experts and obesity researchers attribute the trend in part to children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles. As teens spend more and more time anchored before a screen — burning fewer and fewer calories each day — they are storing more of that unused energy as fat. Hence, the ballooning rates of obesity.
However, a new study using MRI scans has revealed the signs of damage found in the brains of teenagers with obesity.
The results of the small study were reported at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The research suggests that along with weight gain, obesity can trigger inflammation throughout the body and the nervous system that could lead to damage in the brain.
“Brain changes found in obese adolescents related to important regions responsible for the control of appetite, emotions, and cognitive functions,” Pamela Bertolazzi, study co-author and a biomedical scientist and Ph.D. student from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, said in a press release.
However, Danelle M. Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and vice-chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says the findings could alter the approach to obesity research.
“I think this is going to take researchers in a different direction. It really would explain these patterns of behavior that we see in these teens who are having problems with obesity, sometimes the eating is behavioral in nature, it’s sublimating certain emotions with food, as opposed to dealing with them in other ways,It would explain some of the rise in obesity that we’ve seen over the past many years.”
Obesity in younger people has been on the rise over the past 50 years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity in those aged 12 to 19 is now 20 percent.
It’s a problem Gina L. Posner, MD, a pediatrician at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center in
Researchers on the MRI study compared the brains of 59 adolescents with obesity to 61 healthy adolescents.
They found damage to the brain that was connected with inflammatory markers that included leptin, a hormone created by fat cells that helps regulate fat stores and energy levels.
In some people with obesity, the brain fails to respond to this hormone, so the person keeps eating despite having adequate or at times excessive amounts of fat stores.
“When functioning properly, leptin is a satiety hormone, meaning that our fat cells will produce leptin so that we don’t feel as hungry and eat less. In a perfect world, the more fat we have, the more leptin we would create and the less we would eat, leading us to lose weight,” Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, a senior dietitian at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center.
“Unfortunately, however, we don’t live in a perfect world,” she added, “and according to this study, it sounds like the brain changes caused by inflammation, associated with obesity, led the brains to not properly respond to leptin and did not appropriately lower appetite.”
Bertolazzi says the researchers hope to repeat the study, after the participants have undergone a multidisciplinary treatment for weight loss, to see if the damage in the brain is reversible.
Experts agree it’s important to treat obesity in adolescence as soon as possible to limit the amount of damage done both physically and mentally to the teenager.
If left unaddressed, the effects of obesity can be significant.
The results from the new study suggest that obesity not only increases the risk of metabolic diseases, like diabetes, but it may also be linked to worse brain function.
What we need to do now is study ways in which the damage caused by obesity could be reversed and/or prevented.
Potential strategies could include changes in diet, increases in physical activity, reductions in sedentary behavior, and reductions in stress, all of which play an important role in brain development and cognitive function.