A new medical study found that obesity triggers inflammation in the nervous system that could damage important regions of the brain.
"Brain changes were found in obese adolescents related to regions responsible for control of appetite, emotions and cognitive functions," said study co-author Pamela Bertolazzi from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. The researchers derived a measure called fractional anisotropy (FA), which correlates with the condition of the brain's white matter. A reduction in fractional anisotropy is indicative of increasing damage in the white matter. Worsening condition of the white matter was also associated with levels of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Obese people often suffer from insulin resistance. In the U.S., the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The health effects of teen obesity have posed a new set of challenges for clinicians. Dr. Bertolazzi noted that additional studies are needed to determine if this inflammation in young people with obesity is a consequence of the structural changes in the brain. The results of the small study were reported Sunday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.