A New Solution for Childhood Obesity Using Brown Fat

Thermal Imaging: A New Solution for Childhood Obesity Using Brown Fat (video)

Scientists at The University of Nottingham believe they’ve found a way of fighting obesity — with a pioneering technique which uses thermal imaging. This heat-seeking technology is being used to trace our reserves of brown fat — the body’s ‘good fat’ — which plays a key role in how quickly our body can burn calories as energy.

This special tissue known as Brown Adipose Tissue, or brown fat, produces 300 times more heat than any other tissue in the body. Potentially the more brown fat we have the less likely we are to lay down excess energy or food as white fat.

Michael Symonds, Professor of Developmental Physiology in the School of Clinical Sciences, led a team of scientists and doctors at The University of Nottingham who have pioneered the thermal imaging process so we can assess how much brown fat we’ve got and how much heat it is producing. Their research has just been published in the Journal of Pediatrics.



To establish the feasibility of infrared thermal imaging as a reproducible, noninvasive method for assessing changes in skin temperature within the supraclavicular region in vivo.


Thermal imaging was used to assess the effect of a standard cool challenge (by placement of the participant’s feet or hand in water at 20°C) on the temperature of the supraclavicular region in healthy volunteer participants of normal body mass index in 3 age groups, 3-8, 13-18, and 35-58 years of age.


We demonstrated a highly localized increase in temperature within the supraclavicular region together with a significant age-related decline under both baseline and stimulated conditions.


Thermogenesis within the supraclavicular region can be readily quantified by thermal imaging. This noninvasive imaging technique now has the potential to be used to assess brown adipose tissue function alone, or in combination with other techniques, in order to determine the roles of thermogenesis in energy balance and, therefore, obesity prevention.

Affecting over 155 million children worldwide, childhood obesity represents one of the most dangerous trends in global healthcare and is an issue drastically in need of effective interventions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates that nearly 1 in 3 children in America are overweight or obese, which can increase the risk of adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One area of investigation in the fight against obesity centers around the role of brown fat. Brown fat, which burns nearly 300 times more heat than any other tissue in the body, may potentially prevent the production of white fat — our body’s “bad fat”.

Now, scientists at the University of Nottingham have pioneered a technique using thermal imaging to locate our body’s brown fat and assess its capacity to produce heat. The innovation may provide new insights into how our body stores energy into fat. Their results were recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics. According to the researchers, its main utility may be in prevention:

Professor Symonds (Michael Symonds, Professor of Developmental Physiology in the University of Nottingham School of Clinical Sciences) said: “Potentially the more brown fat you have or the more active your brown fat is you produce more heat and as a result you might be less likely to lay down excess energy or food as white fat.”

“This completely non-invasive technique could play a crucial role in our fight against obesity. Potentially we could add a thermogenic index to food labels to show whether that product would increase or decrease heat production within brown fat. In other words whether it would speed up or slow down the amount of calories we burn.”

Professor Symonds, together with Dr Budge and their team from the University’s School of Clinical Sciences has shown that the neck region in healthy children produces heat. With the help of local school children they found that this region, which is known to contain brown adipose tissue, rapidly switches on to produce heat. This capacity is much greater in young children compared with adolescents and adults. The researchers are now using their findings to explore interventions designed to promote energy use as heat and, thus, prevent excess weight gain in both children and adults.

Source: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/pressreleases/2012/july/fighting-obesity-with-thermal-imaging.aspx

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