1. Study looks at how both nature and nurture may be influencing eating behavior in young children

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences press release:

    For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item — think chicken nuggets at every meal — or refusing to try something new might lead to the risk of being over- or underweight, gastrointestinal distress, or other eating disorders later in childhood.

    Parents and other caregivers often deem children as being “picky eaters” for a variety of reasons, but there is not a hard-fast definition in place for research. Nutrition and family studies researchers at the University of Illinois have collaborated for the last 10 years to understand the characteristics of picky eaters and to identify possible correlations of the behavior.

    In a new study, the researchers wanted to see if chemosensory genes might have a possible relationship to picky eating behavior in young children. They found that certain genes related to taste perception may be behind some of these picky eating habits.

    “For most children, picky eating is a normal part of development,” says Natasha Cole, a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I and lead author of the study. “But for some children, the behavior is more worrisome.” Cole, also part of the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program at U of I, hopes the research can help identify the determinants of picky eating behavior in early childhood.

    Leading up to the taste perception genes study, the U of I researchers identified common characteristics of picky eaters, ages 2 to 4 years, and divided these “types” of picky eaters into distinct groups. Further research from the team looked at how parenting styles may affect picky eating behavior and whether children exhibit picky eating behavior both at home and in childcare — homecare or center-based — situations.

    “This has kind of been an evolution of the research, seeing an interaction rather than just seeing the child as on its own, which, when we first started trying to define a picky eater, we were just looking at the child,” explains Soo-Yeun Lee, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I. “As we were moving into different parts of the research we realized, it’s not just the child, it’s the caregiver and the environment, as well.”

    Now, they are looking at the influence of “nature and nurture” on a child’s picky eating behavior.

    “Natasha is actually taking a deeper look at the child and genetic predisposition,” Lee says. “She is looking at sensory taste genes and also at some of the behavioral genes that have been highlighted in the literature. She has been looking at the whole field of picky eating research, and classifying it based on ‘nature vs. nurture.’ Nature is the genetic disposition and nurture is the environment and the caregivers.”

    The idea, Lee explains, is based on an orchid/dandelion hypothesis. “There are some genes — the behavioral genes — that make the child more prone and more sensitive to being more behaviorally problematic when external influences are present that may not work out their way. That’s the orchid concept. This may be a sensitive child who may not be as resilient with negative feedback or negative mealtime strategies given by parents, versus a dandelion child who is very robust and resistant to whatever, nurture or not, is given to them.

    “There is that fine line, and it’s not just the nurture, the environment, that’s influencing that, but it’s the child’s susceptibility to the environmental cues as well,” she adds.

    For the study, the researchers collected information about breastfeeding history and picky eating behaviors, such as limited food variety, food refusals, and struggles for control, for 153 preschoolers, as reported by their caregivers. Saliva samples were also taken for DNA extraction and genotyping.

    The researchers looked at genetic variation in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips”) from five candidate genes related to taste perception. Of the five, they found that two had an association with picky eating behaviors in the preschoolers. One (TAS2R38) was associated with limited dietary variety, and the other (CA6) with struggles for control during mealtime.

    Interestingly, both the TAS2R38 and CA6 genes are possibly related to bitter taste perception. So it is not surprising that the children who are genetically “bitter-sensitive” may be more likely to be picky eaters (i.e. turning down Brussel sprouts or broccoli). Other chemosensory factors, such as odor, color, and texture, may affect eating behaviors as well. Further studies are needed to see how children’s food preferences are affected by the look or smell of their food.

    Along with continuing to look at genetic associations with picky eating, Cole is also interested in understanding how picky eating behaviors start even in children before 2 years of age. Most picky eating research has focused on children over 2 years, but eating habits begin to form before then. She and the research team recently published another study that reviews the research literature on picky eating in children younger than 2 years. The study discusses picky eating associations from an ecological model, starting with the child, and moving out to the child’s environment.

    “By two years, children know how to eat and have pretty set habits,” Cole says. “There is a huge gap in the research when children transition from a milk-based diet to foods that the rest of the family eats.”

    Cole adds that the research involving children under 2 years shows that 22 percent of those children are perceived as picky eaters by their parents or caregivers. Surprisingly, she also found that each additional month of the child’s age was associated with an increase in food-related fussiness. “So a child could go from rarely being a picky eater to being a frequent picky eater in less than a year,” she says.

    Collecting and integrating this comprehensive information from “Cell to Society” is critical to better understand nature-nurture interactions, as many questions in this area remain unsolved, explains Margarita Teran-Garcia, an assistant professor in nutritional sciences, human development and family studies, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the U of I, and co-author of the paper.


  2. Brain cells that control appetite identified for first time

    October 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    Dieting could be revolutionised, thanks to the ground-breaking discovery by the University of Warwick of the key brain cells which control our appetite.

    Professor Nicholas Dale in the School of Life Sciences has identified for the first time that tanycytes — cells found in part of the brain that controls energy levels — detect nutrients in food and tell the brain directly about the food we have eaten.

    According to the new research, tanycytes in the brain respond to amino acids found in foods, via the same receptors that sense the flavour of amino acids (“umami” taste), which are found in the taste buds of the tongue.

    Two amino acids that react most with tanycytes — and therefore are likely to make you feel fuller — are arginine and lysine.

    These amino acids are found in high concentration in foods such as pork shoulder, beef sirloin steak, chicken, mackerel, plums, apricots, avocadoes, lentils and almonds — so eating those foods will activate the tanycytes and make you feel less hungry quicker.

    The researchers made their discovery by adding concentrated amounts of arginine and lysine into brain cells, which were made fluorescent so that any microscopic reactions would be visible. They observed that within thirty seconds, the tanycytes detected and responded to the amino acids, releasing information to the part of the brain that controls appetite and body weight.

    They found that signals from amino acids are directly detected by the umami taste receptors by removing or blocking these receptors and observing that the amino acids no longer reacted with tanycytes.

    Nicholas Dale, who is Ted Pridgeon Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Warwick, commented:

    “Amino acid levels in blood and brain following a meal are a very important signal that imparts the sensation of feeling full. Finding that tanycytes, located at the centre of the brain region that controls body weight, directly sense amino acids has very significant implications for coming up with new ways to help people to control their body weight within healthy bounds.”

    This major discovery opens up new possibilities for creating more effective diets — and even future treatments to suppress one’s appetite by directly activating the brain’s tanycytes, bypassing food and the digestive system.

    Nearly two thirds of the UK population is overweight or obese. This excess weight elevates the risk of premature death and a range of illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, which greatly reduce quality of life. A new understanding of how appetite functions could curb the growing obesity crisis.

    The research, ‘Amino Acid Sensing in Hypothalamic Tanycytes via Umami Taste Receptors’, will be published in Molecular Metabolism.

    It is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


  3. Study suggests link between BMI and how we assess food

    October 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati press release:

    A new study demonstrated that people of normal weight tend to associate natural foods such as apples with their sensory characteristics. On the other hand, processed foods such as pizzas are generally associated with their function or the context in which they are eaten.

    “It can be considered an instance of ‘embodiment‘ in which our brain interacts with our body.” This is the comment made by Raffaella Rumiati, neuroscientist at the International School for Advanced Studies — SISSA in Trieste, on the results of research carried out by her group which reveals that the way we process different foods changes in accordance with our body mass index. With two behavioural and electroencephalographic experiments, the study demonstrated that people of normal weight tend to associate natural foods such as apples with their sensory characteristics such as sweetness or softness.

    On the other hand, processed foods such as pizzas are generally associated with their function or the context in which they are eaten such as parties or picnics.

    “The results are in line with the theory according to which sensory characteristics and the functions of items are processed differently by the brain,” comments Giulio Pergola, the work’s primary author. “They represent an important step forward in our understanding of the mechanisms at the basis of the assessments we make of food.” But that’s not all.

    Recently published in the Biological Psychology journal, the research also highlighted the ways in which underweight people pay greater attention to natural foods and overweight people to processed foods. Even when subjected to the same stimuli, these two groups show different electroencephalography signals. These results show once again the importance of cognitive neuroscience also in the understanding of extremely topical clinical fields such as dietary disorders.

     


  4. Under stress, brains of bulimics respond differently to food

    July 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    Magnetic resonance imaging scans suggest that the brains of women with bulimia nervosa react differently to images of food after stressful events than the brains of women without bulimia, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    In women with bulimia, the researchers found decreased blood flow in a part of the brain associated with self-reflection, compared with increased blood flow in women without bulimia. This suggests that bulimics may be using food to avoid negative thoughts about themselves, the researchers said.

    “To our knowledge, the current study is the first investigation of the neural reactions to food cues following a stressful event in women with bulimia nervosa,” said lead author Brittany Collins, PhD, of the National Medical Center. The research was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

    Stress is considered to be a trigger for binge-eating in patients with bulimia nervosa, but there is little research on how people with bulimia nervosa process and respond to food cues.

    The researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, 10 women with bulimia and 10 without came to a lab where they all ate the same meal. After waiting for about an hour and becoming familiar with an MRI scanner, they then entered the scanner and were shown a series of neutral pictures, such as leaves or furniture, followed by a series of high fat/high sugar food pictures, such as ice cream, brownies, pizza or pasta with cheese sauce.

    Participants were then asked to complete an impossible math problem, a task designed to induce stress and threaten their ego. They then re-entered the scanner and looked at different photos of high fat/high sugar foods. After every activity in the scanner, the women rated their levels of stress and food cravings.

    “We found that everyone experienced increased stress after the stress task, and that everyone reported that stress went down after seeing the food cues again. Also, every time that participants saw the food cues, they reported that their craving for food went up,” said co-author Sarah Fischer, PhD, of George Mason University.

    What was surprising was even though patterns of self-reported results were similar for both groups, the two groups showed very different brain responses on their MRI scans, Fischer said. For women with bulimia, blood flow to a region called the precuneus decreased. For women without the eating disorder, blood flow to this region increased. The precuneus is involved in thinking about the self.

    “We would expect to see increased blood flow in this region when someone is engaged in self-reflection, rumination or self-criticism,” said Fischer.

    In the second experiment, the researchers asked 17 women with bulimia nervosa to complete the same task as the women in the first study, in order to examine whether the findings could be replicated in a different sample of women.

    “Our results were the same in the second study,” said Fischer. “Women reported increases in stress following the stress task and increases in food craving after seeing food cues. More important, blood flow to the same region, the precuneus, decreased when viewing food cues following stress.”

    Collins believes that this decreased blood flow in bulimics suggests that the introduction of food shuts down self-critical thinking in bulimics and gives them something to focus on instead of the painful prospect of dealing with their own shortcomings.

    Psychologists have previously theorized that binge-eating provides bulimic women an alternate focus to negative thoughts about themselves that may be brought on by stress. This research provides support for this theory, according to Collins.

    “Our findings are consistent with the characterization of binge-eating as an escape from self-awareness and support the emotion regulation theories that suggest that women with bulimia shift away from self-awareness because of negative thoughts regarding performance or social comparisons and shift focus to a more concrete stimulus, such as food,” said Collins.

    The results of these experiments could also suggest a neurobiological basis for the use of food as a distractor during periods of stress in women with the disorder, she said. The researchers called for further studies to confirm their results, which they termed preliminary.

    The article is part of a special section of the July 2017 issue of the journal devoted to outstanding contributions by young investigators in the field of eating disorders.

    “This issue is dedicated to highlighting the accomplishments of an impressive group of young researchers,” wrote the section co-editors Pamela Keel, PhD, Florida State University, and Gregory Smith, PhD, University of Kentucky, in their introduction. “The papers offer a glimpse into the many and multifaceted forms of progress young researchers are making in the effort to understand and address an extraordinarily important form of psychopathology, dysfunction related to the basic need of food consumption.”


  5. Study suggests anorexia nervosa has a genetic basis

    June 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Medical University of Vienna press release:

    A large-scale, international whole-genome analysis has now revealed for the first time that anorexia nervosa is associated with genetic anomalies on chromosome 12. This finding might lead to new, interdisciplinary approaches to its treatment. The study was led by the University of North Carolina and has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Child and adolescent psychiatrist Andreas Karwautz from MedUni Vienna’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry was responsible for the Austrian contribution.

    There are currently around 7,500 adolescents in Austria suffering from anorexia nervosa. Girls make up around 95% of those suffering from this serious and protracted disease, which leads to serious health problems due to excessive weight loss. The disease is currently curable in 80% of cases but is still associated with an annual mortality rate of 0.5%. At the present time, the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MedUni Vienna is treating around 70 seriously ill adolescents, both as in-patients and out-patients.

    Although we already knew from genetic tests on monozygotic twins that genes are approximately 60% responsible for the development of anorexia nervosa, we did not know with any certainty which gene loci were involved. A study initiated by the US University of North Carolina has now been conducted worldwide, involving 220 researchers in international medical centres analysing the genetic material of 3,500 anorexics. It was found that, compared with the control group of 11,000 people, anorexics had a significant locus on chromosome 12 that contributes towards an elevated risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

    The researchers also explored whether there was any correlation with other disorders. This revealed that the significant locus lies on chromosome 12, in a region associated with Type I diabetes and autoimmune disorders, as well as insulin metabolism. Moreover, genetic correlations were found between anorexia nervosa, neuroticism and schizophrenia, supporting the idea that anorexia is a psychiatric illness.

    Child and adolescent psychiatrist Karwautz regards the findings of this study as significant proof that, in addition to the psychosocial component, biological factors also play an extremely important role in the onset of anorexia nervosa. This has huge implications in terms of improving treatment. Says Karwautz: “Such studies form a basis for providing patients and their relatives with a logical and realistic explanation for this persistent disorder, which is the third commonest disorder in this adolescent age group. Prevention programmes will also benefit from these new findings.”


  6. A flip switch for binge-eating?

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Researchers have identified a subgroup of neurons in the mouse brain that, upon activation, immediately prompt binge-like eating. Furthermore, repeated stimulation of these neurons over time caused the mice to gain weight. The zona incerta (ZI) is a relatively understudied part of the brain.

    Intriguingly, patients receiving deep brain stimulation of the subthalamus, which includes the ZI, for the treatment of movement disorders can exhibit characteristics of binge eating. To explore this phenomenon in greater detail, Xiaobing Zhang and Anthony N. van den Pol optogenetically labelled GABA neurons in the ZIs of mice.

    They found that stimulating ZI GABA neurons with axons extending into the paraventricular thalamus (PVT) prompted immediate binge-like eating, just two to three seconds after stimulation. Within ten minutes of continuous ZI GABA stimulation, mice rapidly consumed 35% of their daily high-fat food store, meant to be eaten over a 24-hour period.

    The researchers also found that ghrelin, a hormone that signals a reduced energy state in the gut, excited ZI GABA neurons. Upon stimulating the subgroup of ZI neurons for five minutes every three hours over a period of two weeks, the mice significantly increased their food intake, and gained weight.

    Yet, once photostimulation was over, the mice showed a significantly reduced food intake compared with that of controls.

    Lastly, the authors found that stimulation of excitatory axons from the parasubthalamic nucleus to PVT or direct stimulation of glutamate neurons in the PVT reduced food intake.


  7. Prenatal stress predisposes female mice to binge eating

    June 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    Stress changes our eating habits, but the mechanism may not be purely psychological, research in mice suggests. A study published May 30 in Cell Metabolism found that stressed mouse mothers were more likely to give birth to pups that would go on to exhibit binge-eating-like behavior later in life. The female mouse pups from stressed mothers shared epigenetic tags on their DNA, but these epigenetic markers only made a difference when the researchers put the young offspring into a stressful situation. Furthermore, the researchers were able to prevent their binge eating by putting the young mice on a diet with “balanced” levels of nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and folate.

    Previous studies have found an epidemiological link between binge eating and traumatic or stressful events during early life, but untangling the biology behind that correlation has proved difficult. “Here we established a model where we can actually show that early life stress increases the likelihood of binge eating in females,” says senior co-author Alon Chen, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany. “The second thing that is really interesting is that prenatal stress is causing an epigenetic signature in the embryo’s brain,” says Mariana Schroeder, the postdoctoral fellow that led this study.

    To test the impact of prenatal stress, the researchers genetically engineered a line of mice, where the brain circuit responsible for releasing cortisol and other stress hormones could be manipulated. Many different systems within the brain contribute to “stress,” but the researchers wanted to be able to zero in on one specific neuroendocrine circuit — called the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system — to see if it had an effect. In humans, high levels of CRF activity have been linked to increased anxiety, suppressed appetite, and inflammation, all of which can take a long-term toll.

    When these mice became pregnant, the researchers activated the CRF system during their “third trimester” in order to kick the stress circuit into high gear. Their goal was to simulate chronic CRF stress in isolation, but because being handled by humans usually causes all of a mouse’s stress circuits to kick in, they developed a CRF-triggering technique with minimal intervention. “We didn’t actually handle the mice at all; we just changed the water that included the genetic trigger in the third trimester,” Chen says. Handling the mice is usually a source of stress.

    They found that female pups from these stressed mice exhibited epigenetic markers in tissue from their hypothalami. However, the presence of epigenetic methyl tags alone was not enough to cause binge eating. The mouse pups’ tendency to binge only surfaced when they were placed in a stressful situation where the researchers restricted their access to food. The mice on the “limited access” diet could eat as much this very rewarding food as they wanted, but they only had access to food for 2-hour windows three times per week, prompting some mice to eat excessively large amounts of food very quickly during the meal windows.

    Interestingly, all 10 of the female mice that were subjected to the restricted feeding scenario exhibited a binge-eating phenotype. The researchers used an equal number of female offspring from the stressed out mothers that were not subjected to the restricted feeding schedule as a control. If the same pathways are involved in human eating disorders, it could partly explain why women diagnosed with eating disorders outnumber their male counterparts.

    The chemicals that cells use to epigenetically annotate their genes come from food sources. In this case, the epigenetic marker was a methyl tag, and the cell grabs methyl groups from vitamins such as B12 and folate for epigenetic tagging, so the researchers decided to test what would happen if they adjusted the levels of methyl-donating vitamins in the mice’s diet. The genetically predisposed mice on the methyl-balanced diet did not exhibit the binge-eating-like behavior, suggesting that non-invasive dietary interventions may be able to prevent binge eating.

    However, the researchers emphasize that this is a pre-clinical study in mice. We don’t know yet what a methyl-balanced diet for humans would look like or whether it would even have an effect on human eating disorders. “We found a balance, but it might not be the relevant balance for humans. This is something that needs to be tested,” says Chen.

    Chen hopes that this work will help researchers understand the neurobiology behind eating disorders. “The general public is less aware of the fact that we are dealing with a very biological mechanism that changes a person. People say, ‘Oh, it’s only in the brain.’ And yes, it’s in the brain. It involves changes in your genes, in your epigenome, and your brain circuits.”

    All of this underscores the importance of avoiding stressful situations as much as possible during pregnancy. “We all know this, but people ignore it for various social or economic reasons,” says Chen. “But the price we pay later in life — whether it’s psychiatric disorders, metabolic syndromes, or heart-related illnesses — is heavily impacted by the way your brain was programmed early in life.”


  8. Parents’ use of emotional feeding increases emotional eating in school-age children

    May 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Emotional eating — eating when you feel sad or upset or in response to another negative mood — is not uncommon in children and adolescents, but why youth eat emotionally has been unclear. Now a new longitudinal study from Norway has found that school-age children whose parents fed them more to soothe their negative feelings were more likely to eat emotionally later on. The reverse was also found to be the case, with parents of children who were more easily soothed by food being more likely to feed them for emotional reasons.

    The findings come from researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King’s College London, University College London, and the University of Leeds. They appear in the journal Child Development.

    Understanding where emotional eating comes from is important because such behavior can increase the risk for being overweight and developing eating disorders,” according to the study’s lead author, Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “If we can find out what influences the development of emotional eating in young children, parents can be given helpful advice about how to prevent it.”

    When children eat to soothe their negative feelings, their food tends to be high in calories (e.g., sweets) so they consume more calories. If they emotionally overeat often, they are also more likely to be overweight. Emotional eating is also tied to the development of later eating disorders (e.g., bulimia and binge eating). This study sought to determine why children eat emotionally and is the first research to consider the issue in school-age children.

    Researchers examined emotional feeding and eating in a representative group of 801 Norwegian 4-year-olds, looking at these issues again at ages 6, 8, and 10. They sought to determine whether parents involved in the study (mostly mothers) shaped their children’s later behavior by offering food to make them feel better when they were upset (emotional feeding), and whether parents whose children were easily soothed by food (those who calmed when given food) were more likely to offer them more food for comfort at a subsequent time. Parents were asked to complete questionnaires describing their children’s emotional eating and temperament (how easily they became upset, how well they could control their emotions), as well as their own emotional feeding. Approximately 65% of the children displayed some emotional eating.

    The study found that young children whose parents offered them food for comfort at ages 4 and 6 had more emotional eating at ages 8 and 10. But the reverse was also true: Parents whose children were more easily comforted with food were more likely to offer them food to soothe them (i.e., to engage in emotional feeding). Thus, emotional feeding increased emotional eating, and emotional eating increased emotional feeding. The findings held even after accounting for children’s body-mass index and initial levels of feeding and eating.

    Moreover, higher levels of negative affectivity (i.e., becoming angry or upset more easily) at age 4 increased children’s risk for emotional eating and feeding at age 6. And this contributed to the bidirectional relation between emotional feeding and emotional eating.

    “We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down,” notes Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who coauthored the study. “Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters.”

    The authors suggest that instead of offering children food to soothe them when they are sad or upset, parents and other caregivers try to calm youngsters by talking, offering a hug, or soothing in ways that don’t involve food. “Food may work to calm a child, but the downside is teaching children to rely on food to deal with negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long run,” adds Steinsbekk.

    The authors caution that because the study was conducted in Norway, which has a relatively homogenous and well-educated population, the findings should not be generalized to more diverse populations or to cultures with other feeding and eating practices without further study.


  9. Identifying children at risk of eating disorders is key to saving lives

    January 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Newcastle University media release:

    Spotting eating disorder symptoms in children as young as nine years old will allow medics to intervene early and save lives, experts say.

    A team from Newcastle University has identified that girls and boys with more eating disorder symptoms at age nine also had a higher number of symptoms at age 12.

    A new study published in the academic journal, Appetite, reveals the need to treat eating disorder problems as early as possible to help prevent children developing the life-threatening illness.

    The six-year study identified three areas that parents, teachers and doctors should be alert to when looking to detect and help youngsters at risk of the mental health problem.

    These factors are: boys and girls with body dissatisfaction, girls with depressive symptoms, and boys and girls who have had symptoms at an earlier stage.

    It is believed that this research will help pave the way for early interventions to help young patients deal with their eating disorder.

    Dr Elizabeth Evans, Research Associate at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society, led the study.

    She said: “This research was not about investigating eating disorders themselves, rather we investigated risk factors for developing early eating disorder symptoms.

    “Most previous work on children and young adolescents has only looked at the symptoms at one point in time so cannot tell which factors precede others.

    “Our research has been different in that we have specifically focused on the factors linked with the development of eating disorder symptoms to identify children at the greatest risk.

    Results suggest the need to detect eating disorder symptoms early, since a higher level of symptoms at nine years old was the strongest risk factor for a higher level of symptoms at 12 years old.”

    Eating disorders are rare at age nine (1.64 per 100,000) but more prevalent at age 12 (9.51 per 100,000). The most common age for hospitalisation is 15 years old for both boys and girls.

    Many more children have symptoms but do not develop a full eating disorder. Symptoms can include rigid dieting, binge-eating, making oneself sick after eating, and high levels of anxiety about being fat or gaining weight. Eating disorders are serious and can be fatal.

    For the research, children from a birth cohort, the Gateshead Millennium Study, completed questionnaires about eating disorder symptoms, depressive feelings and body dissatisfaction when they were seven, nine and 12.

    The North East has the highest rate of eating disorder hospital admissions in the UK, at approximately six per 100,000. Many more sufferers are treated as outpatients.

    The research highlights that some risk factors precede the symptoms of the condition and others occur at the same time.

    At age 12, boys and girls who are more dissatisfied with their bodies have greater numbers of eating disorder symptoms. Body dissatisfaction is an important indicator of increased risk of the condition.

    Girls with depressive symptoms at 12 years old also have greater numbers of eating disorder symptoms. This relationship was not seen in boys.

    The study is being followed up by repeating the questionnaires with the same cohort of children at 15 years old. This will allow researchers to assess what happened next for the youngsters with greater numbers of eating disorders at age 12.

    Dr Evans said: “Future studies we do will investigate if our findings with young adolescents hold true for older adolescents, or whether we detect new risk factors.

    “Both possibilities will further inform our efforts to promote and target early prevention for eating disorders.”

     


  10. No sweet surrender: Glucose actually enhances self-control, study shows

    June 7, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis media release:

    blueberries blackberriesIn the age of the ‘sugar tax’, good news about glucose is hard to come by. But an Australian scientist has just proposed a new understanding of the established link between the sweet stuff and improved .

    As Neil Levy, from Macquarie University, explains in the journal Philosophical Psychology, the current ‘ego depletion’ model of the link between glucose and self-control holds that self-control is a depletable resource. Or put another way, glucose is the fuel for the engine of self-control.

    But Dr Levy isn’t convinced. After examining all the available evidence, he proposes a rival ‘opportunity costs’ model. Glucose isn’t a ‘fuel’ to support self-control, he suggests, but a signal of environmental quality. He explains that, “a resource-poor environment is one in which it is relatively urgent to pursue shorter-sooner rewards; a resource-rich environment is one in which there is little urgency.”

    [Glucose] is a signal that the environment is such that there is relatively less urgency to pursue [smaller sooner] rewards, and that strategies aimed at securing [larger later] rewards are likely to be relatively more successful.” As Levy explains, when people in a resource-rich environment are less sensitive to ‘competing rewards’, they tend to work longer at tasks for which the payoff or reward is delayed: the very definition of self-control.

    “The opportunity costs of allocating attentional and cognitive resources … to a particular task are relatively low; therefore, the subject persists longer or performs better at the task,” he writes. “The subject persists longer because the subject continues to deploy resources without shifting them; the subject performs better because the subject allocates proportionally more resources to the task, as a consequence of not needing to devote resources to scouring for competing opportunities.” Despite his commitment to his theory, Levy acknowledges that glucose might only be one signal of environmental richness. “Any cue that signals a lack of urgency to pursue immediate reward should be expected to have the same effect,” he observes.

    It’s also unlikely that sensing glucose alone would be enough for the body to change its strategy; it may be the case that the body picks up on glucose only when other signals of poverty, conflict or instability are absent. “It is not glucose per se that constitutes the signal: it is glucose correlated with the absence of cues indicating the need to pursue it immediately,” he concludes.

    Dr Levy acknowledges that his theory needs further exploration — but when the experiments involve glucose, he’s unlikely to have any shortage of volunteers.