The Smell of Food Activates Impulse Areas of the Brain in Obese Children

By Robert Lawton (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

According to new imaging research, the area of the brain that’s associated with impulsive behaviors is activated when children are introduced to the smells of food. The same area of the brain is also associated with the development of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Research Study

Childhood obesity has been highlighted as an emerging health crisis in the United States. The World Health Organization statistics show there are almost 12.7 million obese children in America.
The understanding that obesity is likened to disorders of the brain and behavior might lead to new treatment approaches to care for those with the condition.

Dr. Pilar Dies-Suarez, M.D. said, “In order to fight obesity, it is crucial to understand the brain mechanisms of odor stimulus.”

She further states, “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.”

Children who suffer from obesity have a plethora of different health risks including; Type II diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), breathing issues, joint problems and much more. Childhood obesity means the youngster has a higher risk of growing up to become an obese adult.

For the study, researchers observed 30 children between the ages of six and ten years of age. Half the kids in the study were of a normal body mass index, between 19 and 24, while the other half had a body mass index of more than 30, which is considered obese.

Each child was given three different odors to sample, chocolate, an onion and a neutral odor of diluted acetone. As the children smelled the sample odors, two MRI techniques, a functional MRI and a functional connectivity MRI, were performed to measure activity in the brain.

When researchers evaluated the results of the fMRI, it showed that food odors when smelled by obese children, activated the area of the brain associated with impulse and the development of OCD.

Consequently, it was also observed that the area of the brain associated with impulse control showed no activity.

In children with a normal BMI, the areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure sensations, organization and planning, became more active.
In addition, the fcMRI results highlighted that when normal weight youngsters smelled the onion, there was a link between the gustatory cortex, which is responsible for the tasting process, and the area of the brain associated with rewards. This connection didn’t happen in children who are obese.

The smell of chocolate brought about significant brain connections in obese children, in comparison to normal weight youngsters.

Conclusion to the Study:

Dr. Dies-Suarez stated in closing, “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.”


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