19/04/2012 07:49 BST | Updated 19/04/2012 07:52 BST

Brain Scan Linked To Weight Gain

It's easy to be suspicious of overweight people who claim not to be able to say ‘no’ to food. Yet, according to new research by Dartmouth University in America, food does funny things to our brains.

In a study published in The Journal Of Neuroscience on April 18, 2012, research showed that first-year University students whose brains ‘lit up’ after seeing pictures of food were more likely to gain weight within six months.

Academics at the New Hampshire University focused their attentions on activity in the brain's nucleus accumbens, often referred to as the mind's ‘reward centre’, which is thought to release hormones that cause pleasure.

“The people whose brains responded more strongly to food cues were the people who went on to gain more weight,” explained Kathryn Demos, first author on the paper, in a statement.

The use of brain scans - or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - also located a link between sexual cues and future sexual activity, the research said.

Researchers stated: “These findings suggest that heightened reward responsivity in the brain to food and sexual cues is associated with indulgence in overeating and sexual activity, respectively, and provide evidence for a common neural mechanism associated with appetitive behaviours.”

The first step toward controlling cravings may be an awareness of how much you are affected by specific triggers in the environment, such as the arrival of the dessert tray in a restaurant, noted researchers.

Williams Kelly, associate professor of psychological and brain science and a senior author on the paper, said: "You need to actively be thinking about the behavior you want to control in order to regulate it. Self-regulation requires a lot of conscious effort.”

According to a recent blog in The New York Times, a team of researchers led by a group from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently asked 3,622 young men and women in Mexico to estimate their body size based on categories ranging from very underweight to obese.

Over 50% of overweight students incorrectly described themselves as normal weight, writes Tara Parker-Pope. While 80% of those in the normal weight range were correct in their guess. Among the obese, 75% placed themselves in the overweight category, and only 10% accurately described their body size.

It also seems that deep prejudice against fat people is beginning to erode. Time magazine released its top 100 list today with size-16 singer Adele making the cut, just months after Karl Lagerfeld apologised for calling her 'too fat'.

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