Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Is Childhood Obesity Psychological?

"Is Childhood Obesity a Psychological Disorder?" says a headline in a press release from Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Now, many people get their information from headlines and don't read the articles. Also, a headline with a question mark suggests that the answer is Yes. If it were no, it wouldn't usually be newsworthy, akin to asking if childhood obesity were related to the name of the child's kindergarten teacher.

So this headline suggests that childhood obesity is a psychological disorder, and although there are many definitions of "psychological," a common one is "it's all in your head," meaning it's not a real disorder, and suggests that these kids are emotionally unstable and could become thin if they really wanted to.

In fact, the article focussed on brain scans of overweight or obese and normal-weight adolescents. They found that after showing the adolescents words describing various kinds of food, although the brains of all the participants were stimulated in areas that support reward and emotion, the overweight/obese ones had less activity in brain areas that support attention and self-regulation. I'd call this a brain disorder, not a psychological disorder.

As you might expect, when offered a buffet after the testing, the overweight/obese adolescents ate more than the lean ones.

This study is interesting, but I think the headline reflects an unconscious bias against fat people, suggesting that fat children have psychological problems. If the brains of overweight people are indeed different, we should try to figure out why they're different and then figure out how to normalize them.

I'm sure there are some overweight people who overeat because of psychological traumas. But there are others who overeat because they have differences in their hunger sensations, for example the rare children who lack leptin. And there are others who don't actually overeat but have metabolisms that are superefficient at converting food into fat.

It would be nice if all weight problems had only one cause so it would be easy to fix, but that's not the case. Until we have the solutions, we should at least stop stigmatizing overweight people and instead help them heal.





real. , and many

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