Obesity and its consequences – Understanding how brain impacts overeating

New research reveals that the brain has complex circuitry that locks appetite to memories of finding and enjoying food. This drives the feeding behaviors necessary for survival and the circuits include one mechanism that does the opposite: curbing the compulsion to eat in response to food.

Once, scientists thought that gut instincts drove animals’ feeding behavior with very little input from the brain.

The sight and smell of food, they maintained, was enough to trigger eating.

However, since then, more and more evidence has suggested that the brain does intervene to perform some decision-making about whether to proceed with eating or not, with less clarity of which nerve cells are involved.

Meanwhile, According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more deaths globally are linked to overweight and obesity than to underweight. Since 1975, the number of people worldwide with obesity has tripled.

The WHO attribute this crisis to the rising consumption of energy-dense, high-fat food at the same time that lifestyles and jobs have become less physically demanding. The result is an upset in energy balance that favors weight gain.

National survey figures from 2013–2014 — which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) use in their reports — show that overweight or obesity affects more than two-thirds of adults in the United States. The survey also found that about 1 in 6 children and teenagers aged 2–19 years have obesity.

Overweight and obesity can have serious health consequences. They can raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death worldwide in 2012.

Carrying too much weight can also increase the risk of some cancers and make it more likely that disabling conditions that impair the joints, such as osteoarthritis, will develop.

Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity and disability and die prematurely as adults. They are also more likely to develop respiratory problems, fractures, high blood pressure, and show early signs of cardiovascular disease.

However, Treatments for overweight and obesity usually focus on changing lifestyle and habits in order to lose weight. These changes include adopting healthful eating patterns and increasing physical activity.

However, lifestyle changes may not be enough to help some people lose weight and keep it off. Doctors need to consider additional aids to weight loss, including drugs and surgery.

 Gaining a better understanding of the brain circuits that control eating impulses could help improve such treatments.


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