The new study images the brains of 120 adolescent subjects, half of which are classified as obese. Researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging to calculate a measure called fractional anisotropy. Fractions are an effective indicator of the connectivity of white matter in the brain. The lower the FA value, the greater the likelihood of certain white matter brain damage.
Compared to healthy controls, the researchers found that FA values were lower in several brain regions in obese subjects. Lower FA values were found in the FA body and the orbitofrontal gyrus.
To determine the link between brain changes and obesity, the researchers took blood samples from all subjects. Several obesity-related inflammatory markers may be significantly associated with brain changes, including leptin, insulin, and proteins from the tumor necrosis factor family.
A previous study by the University of Cambridge also found significant structural differences in the brains of obese children compared to healthy controls. Researchers at the University of Cambridge are cautious about assuming what their research might mean, and are hesitant to discuss why obesity or brain damage may occur first.