Obesity in children: special diet can “turn down” faulty weight control setting | Action Medical Research

Obesity in children: special diet can “turn down” faulty weight control setting

7 November 2012

Worldwide, estimates suggest that numbers of children who are obese have tripled during the last 20 years.1 As the growing obesity crisis continues, successful treatment options remain limited. Treatment of obesity by calorie restriction, despite having initial success, often fails due to rebound weight gain (the so called “yo-yo” effect).

New research however, published this week [5 November 2012] in the journal Molecular Metabolism2, offers hope for children struggling to maintain a healthy and a low fat diet is key.

Research at the University of Aberdeen, funded by Children’s charity Action Medical Research, is focusing on the brain’s energy balance circuit, which plays a key role in natural weight control. This brain circuit works like a thermostat; if turned up - weight goes up, if turned down – weight goes down.

Previously, the researchers had shown in a laboratory model that eating an unhealthy diet damages this brain circuit. This new laboratory research shows that this damage turns up the “thermostat” on the energy balance circuit, causing weight gain. This damage could be reversed by calorie restriction and the setting on the energy balance circuit turned back down again, potentially curing obesity. But, not all diets had the same impact.

The research found that eating less, but still eating an unhealthy diet, causes weight loss – but does not turn down the energy balance circuit. Once treatment ends, weight simply rebounds back up again. However, eating less but eating a healthy diet causes weight loss and turns down the energy balance circuit.

Researcher John Speakman says: “Rebound weight gain after dieting is a major problem. These data point to a potential reason why some individuals bounce back much further than others, and provide a clue as to how to minimise the problem. The result is really exciting.”

Once treatment of obesity with a healthy diet ends weight does not “yo-yo” back up as far. These results may explain why treating obesity with calorie restricted diets cures obesity in some people but not in others.

Co-researcher David McNay says: “We’ve known for some time that over-eating an unhealthy diet causes obesity, but we’ve not been sure if it was the overeating or the unhealthy diet that is the problem. This research shows that every calorie is not equal and that successful treatment of obesity requires both eating less and eating healthier.”

Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager at Action Medical Research says, “Helping children to keep to a healthy weight could decrease their risk of developing serious, long-term health problems and free them from the stigma that often comes with growing up with obesity.”

- ENDS -

1. World Health Organization. Nutrition. Facts and Figures. http://www.euro.who.int/en/what-we-do/health-topics/disease-prevention/n... Accessed 3 January 2011.
2. McNay, Speakman. High fat diet causes rebound weight gain. Molecular Metabolism, 5 November 2012. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2012.10.003 http://www.molecularmetabolism.com/article/PIIS2212877812000191/abstract

For further information please contact:
Toni Slater, Interim Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478
E: tslater@action.org.uk
W: action.org.uk

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Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more.

Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.

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