Children who binge eat may be hardwired to do so: New research reveals they have abnormalities in regions of the brain associated with reward and inhibition.
People with binge eating disorder have frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food and struggle to control the behavior. Those with the disorder are at increased risk for obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart problems and suicidal thoughts.
In this study, researchers analyzed brain scans and other data from 71 U.S. children with binge eating disorder and 74 children without the disorder. The children were between the ages of 9 and 10.
"In children with binge eating disorder, we see abnormality in brain development in brain regions specifically linked to reward and impulsivity, or the ability to inhibit reward," said study author Stuart Murray, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles.
"These kids have a very, very heightened reward sensitivity, especially toward calorically dense, high-sugar foods. The findings underscore the fact that this is not a lack of discipline for these kids," Murray said in a university news release.
The study was published in the April issue of the journal Psychiatry Research.
"This study suggests to me that binge eating disorder is wired in the brain, even from a very, very early age," Murray said.
"The question that we don't know, which is something that we will address in time, is whether successful treatment of binge eating disorder in kids helps correct brain development," he said. "The prognosis of almost all psychiatric diseases is better if you can treat them in childhood."
Treatment seeks to reduce how often patients have binge eating episodes by removing "trigger foods," and dealing with underlying depression or anxiety, but treatment with medication and talk therapy is effective only about half the time, Murray added.
For more on binge eating disorder, go to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, March 15, 2022