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PROVO — The key to successful weight loss could be found by studying brain scans of hungry teens.
A new study from researchers at Brigham Young University, published in the journal Obesity, studied three different groups of teens to see how their brains reacted to food while hungry. The 34 participants fasted for four hours and then were shown images of healthy and unhealthy foods while their brains were scanned.
“The promising piece is that it appears we can help people to learn how to make better choices about food,” Chad Jensen, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, said in a news release.
Researchers looked at which parts of the brain showed activity with the different types of food, taking special interest in activity in the pre-frontal cortex, where the executive function resides. “Executive function is the ability to process and prioritize competing interests,” according to the news release.
Teens who had lost weight had high activity in their prefrontal cortex when they viewed foods like pizza, burgers and ice cream cones, which could explain why they succeeded in losing weight, researchers said.
BYU neuroscientist Brock Kirwan said it’s possible to improve executive function to help people lose weight with activities like computer games, aerobic activity, yoga and martial arts.
Above: Brain activity for high-calorie foods (warm colors) vs. low-calorie foods (cool colors).
The study is the first publication to come from BYU’s new MRI facility. Jensen’s research team is currently recruiting teenage participants for ongoing studies about weight loss and executive function. If your teenage children would like to participate, please text 385-200-1368 or call 801-422-6164.