A new study led by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine finds that the brains of obese children literally light up differently when tasting sugar.
Published online in International Journal of Obesity, the study does not show a causal relationship between sugar hypersensitivity and overeating but it does support the idea that the growing number of America's obese youth may have a heightened psychological reward response to food.
This elevated sense of "food reward" - which involves being motivated by food and deriving a good feeling from it - could mean some children have brain circuitries that predispose them to crave more sugar throughout life.
"The take-home message is that obese children, compared to healthy weight children, have enhanced responses in their brain to sugar," said first author Kerri Boutelle, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and founder of the university's Center for Health Eating and Activity Research (CHEAR).
"That we can detect these brain differences in children as young as eight years old is the most remarkable and clinically significant part of the study," she said.