Diet success: Does brain structure play a role?

Results show that the ability to self-regulate body weight could be down to each individual's brain structure.

Obesity is a problem worldwide but particularly in the United States. Over one third of adults in the U.S. are obese, and the 2008 annual medical costs for people who were obese were $1,429 higher than for those who were of a normal weight.

Additionally, obesity increases risks for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, which are some of the leading causes of preventable death.

Many people assume that being successful at dieting just requires some discipline. However, a new study found that the ability to lose weight while dieting is not entirely something we can control, since it largely depends on a person’s individual brain structure.

In a study published in the journal Cognitive Neuroscience, a team of scientists from Dartmouth College and Ohio State University examined a group of 36 chronic dieters using fMRI machines. The scientists then looked at the connections between the executive control and reward systems in the participants’ brains.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI can be an indicator of body fatness. If BMI is less than 18.5, a person is considered underweight. BMI between 18.5-25 is considered normal, whereas 25-30 is overweight and 30 or higher is considered obese.

They found that participants with lower body-fat percentages had an improved white matter pathway that connected the two systems in the brain, according to a statement.

However, they add that although "a previous study found that repeatedly practicing a task can lead to increased [measures of white matter integrity] in particular fiber tracts, it is also possible that failures in dieting lead to obesity and obesity-related factors."

The team says the findings support their hypothesis that structural integrity in the brain coincides with individual body fat differences. They say it is also indicative of dieting success and add:

"Individuals with reduced integrity may have difficulty in overriding rewarding temptations, leading to a greater chance of becoming obese than those with higher structural integrity."

At least now you know that dieting to lose weight isn’t totally dependent upon staying away from the free snacks at work.

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