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Mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children

Researchers believe that the practice of mindfulness can increase response inhibition and decrease impulsivity.

Zee Media Bureau

Washington: A new study suggests that mindfulness can help treat or avoid obesity in children as it helps them control overeating impulses.

Researchers believe that the practice of mindfulness can increase response inhibition and decrease impulsivity.

The research reveals that the balance in brain networks in children who are obese is different compared to healthy-weight children, making them more prone to over-eating.

It says that the brains of children who are obese exhibit an "imbalance" between food-seeking and food-avoiding behaviours, suggesting that mindfulness, a practise used as a therapeutic technique to focus awareness, should be studied as a way to encourage healthy eating and weight loss in children.

"Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more," said senior author Kevin Niswender, from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in US.

"We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity," said co-senior author Ronald Cowan.

"Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults. So far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children," said Cowan.

The study included 38 children, five who were considered obese and six who were overweight. Their eating behaviours were assessed using a questionnaire, and their brain function was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Three brain regions in adults are potent modulators of eating habits - the nucleus accumbens, associated with reward-motivated behaviours; the frontal pole, associated with impulsivity; and the inferior parietal lobe (IPL), associated with response inhibition, the ability to inhibit or override a response such as overeating.

The researchers used MRI to determine the balance of functional neural connectivity between these eating-related brain regions in children of various weights.

"We wanted to look at the way (their) brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are overweight and obese," said first author BettyAnn Chodkowski, from Vanderbilt University.

They found that as weight increased among children, the connectivity between the inhibition-associated IPL and reward-associated nucleus accumbens decreased, while connectivity between the nucleus accumbens and the impulsivity-associated frontal pole increased.

This suggests that unhealthy eating behaviours and obesity could reflect an imbalance in the functional connectivity of brain areas associated with response inhibition, impulsivity and reward.

Mindfulness has been used to encourage healthy responses to everyday adversities, although few studies have tested its use in the area of healthy eating or weight loss among children.

The study was published in the journal Heliyon.

(With PTI inputs)