A new Brigham Young University study finds that adolescent teens can train their brains to make better food choices.
Neuroscientists used BYU’s new MRI machine to monitor brain activity in the starving students’ frontal cortex as they were shown images of various healthy and unhealthy foods. The frontal cortex is the area of the brain where a person makes decisions and weighs consequences, an act called executive function. Chad Jensen is a BYU professor of psychology and lead author of the study. He says there are very few studies of the eating habits of teens.
“Also, it’s an important period for weight gain so teens who gain weight through adolescence are likely to remain over weight or continue to gain weight into adulthood,” says Jensen.
He says when high-calorie foods were shown to teenagers, those who had successfully lost 30 pounds or more showed the highest level of activity for control of executive function. Jensen says it’s clear some teens are better than others at executive function even though they all arrive at the study center after fasting for four hours.
“So they’re all pretty hungry and the foods look quite appealing,” says Jensen. “But it appears those successful weight losers are more able to control the motivation to eat those foods.”
Jensen says a variety of activities can improve that control like specific computer games, and physical activity including martial arts and yoga. He says he wants to expand their studies to include how sleeping habits affect weight control in teens. BYU neuroscientist Brock Kirwan is coauthor of the study. It is published in the scientific journal “Obesity.”