The obesity epidemic is putting a great deal of strain on the healthcare system, costing the nation billions of dollars each year. Additionally, the number of deaths due to obesity-related health problems are rising at a rapid rate.
New research suggests that brain chemistry changes in overweight individuals may be partly to blame for the epidemic, which is spiraling out of control.
Researchers from the University of Texas, Austin found that overweight and obese individuals have fewer dopamine receptors. These are responsible for pleasure responses in the brain to external stimuli, including food. A lack of receptors means that individuals must eat more food to feel satiated.
The findings help explain why it can be so difficult for overweight individuals to cut back on portion sizes and limit their food intake.
"These results will be important when developing programs to prevent and treat obesity," said Eric Stice, who led the study. "This may explain why obesity typically shows a chronic course and is resistant to treatment."
Stice believes that understanding the underpinnings of the disease could help doctors develop more effective treatments for obesity.