Scientists from Finland have located a certain area of the brain that could be responsible for weight gain and obesity.
The central nervous system helps to control food intake and it has long been known that the brain influences how and what we eat.
However, the latest finding suggest overweight individuals’ brains could be wired in such a way that they “constantly generate signals that promote eating” even when they don’t require food.
Participants to the study were exposed to images of food while their brain activity was monitored using functional MRI scans.
The results showed that morbidly obese subjects had a significantly higher glucose metabolism in the striatal region of the brain than lean participants.
This region is responsible for rewarding emotions and desires.
These findings are yet another step towards understanding how brain responses vary in people with weight problems.
Lead researcher Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from the University of Turku said: “The results suggest that obese individuals’ brains might constantly generate signals that promote eating even when the body would not require additional energy uptake.”
It is now hoped that the discovery will help develop more effective obesity intervention strategies.
Prof. Lauri Nummenmaa, who worked with a team from Aalto University, added: “The results have major implications on the current models of obesity, but also on development of pharmacological and psychological treatments of obesity.”
A previous study from Cambridge University found leptin, one of the key hormones responsible for reducing hunger and increasing the feeling of fullness, also controls fondness for food.
Patients with a rare genetic disorder resulting in a complete lack of leptin receptors in the brain were found to eat excessively and develop severe obesity.
When they were treated with the hormone, scientists found their hunger was reduced, and they gradually lost weight.
Although obesity typically results simply from excessive calorie intake, it is still unclear why some people are prone to overeating and gaining weight.
The results of the recent study appeared in the journal PLoS ONE.
Obesity is when a person is carrying too much body fat for their height and gender and a person is considered obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.