FoodFacts.com tries to stay aware of the latest news regarding the growing obesity epidemic and how it affects the health and well being of the population. Today we found an interesting study out of the University of Illinois that highlights a possible link between diets high in fat and conditions that affect children in our country like ADHD and learning disabilities connected to memory.
Both childhood obesity and childhood conditions like ADHD and learning disabilities have been on an upsurge. The researchers involved in this study explored the effects of a high-fat diet (with 60% of its calories derived from fat) versus a low-fat diet with only 10% of calories coming from fat on the behavior of two different groups of one month old mice. Before the mice on the high-fat diet were able to gain any weight from their food consumption, the behavior of the group began to change.
The mice on the high-fat diet experienced an increase in anxiety, evidenced by increased burrowing and wheel running as well as a hesitance to explore available open spaces. Those same mice also developed learning and memory problems. They experienced difficulty negotiating a maize as well as difficulty recognizing objects. When some of these mice were switched over to a low-fat diet, their memory was back to normal in one week’s time.
Some of the mice were kept on the high-fat diet and the memory problems continued for a three week period. At about 10 weeks, their bodies seemed to compensate for the diet – but by that point the mice became obese and developed diabetes. These results suggested to researchers that a high-fat diet could possibly trigger anxiety and memory problems in children.
While the researchers expected that the high-fat diet would encourage inflammation which is associated with obesity, they didn’t see an inflammatory response in the brains of the mice consuming the higher-fat food. What they did find, however, was the initiation of a chemical response that was similar to the responses seen in addiction … the increase of dopamine, which is associated with pleasurable feelings in an addict. The increase in dopamine is felt to have triggered the anxious behaviors and learning difficulties in the high-fat diet group. It was noted that the increase of dopamine in the brain is common to both the ADHD condition as well as obesity.
FoodFacts.com found the information in this study to be very valuable. While we understand that further research must be conducted to clarify these results, and we understand that not every child with ADHD or a learning disability is obese, the study certainly calls into question how diets high in fat affect our children. Let’s continue to be mindful of building healthy nutrition habits for our families and to develop a deeper understanding of how the foods we (and our children) eat affect our health and well being.