How pediatric obesity can be predicted through brain imaging scans

A new Yale University study has provided a potential new way of predicting future weight gain in children with obesity. The findings appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to researchers, when there is an increase in specialized cells in a brain region called the nucleus accumbens, it might indicate an inflammatory response as a result of excessive calorie intake.

An increase in the concentration of specialized cells in the region is associated with obesity in children, researchers say.

As part of the National Institutes of Health-funded Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, the data of more than 11,000 children were examined, focusing on brain development, among other health areas.

The study involved a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique known as Restriction Spectrum Imaging, which delves into microstructures located inside the brain.

“We use an MRI technique to probe nucleus accumbens (NAcc) tissue microstructure and predict waist circumference after 1 y,” the study states.

“We find that increased cell density in the NAcc is strongly associated with obesity in a large cohort of children and predicts future weight gain independent of waist circumference at baseline.”

The findings led researchers to believe that the density of cells in the brain region was capable of predicting increases in waist circumference and body mass index even one year in advance.

“This study is a step towards better understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying childhood weight gain, which will be critically important to inform early intervention and obesity prevention strategies,” researchers concluded in a Yale news release.

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