Fighting obesity with thermal imaging

July 18, 2012

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 , or , 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 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.

The University of Nottingham's Early Life Nutrition Research Unit is at the forefront of ground-breaking international research into managing brown adipose tissue using nutrition, exercise, and environmental and therapeutic interventions.

Thermogenic index for food labels

Professor Symonds 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."

The obesity threat

Obesity is one of the biggest challenges we face in Europe and America as our children grow older. It affects 155 million children worldwide. In the UK the number of overweight children doubled in the 1990s.

Dr Helen Budge, Clinical Associate Professor and Reader in Neonatology, said: "Babies have a larger amount of brown fat which they use up to keep warm soon after birth making our study's finding that this healthy fat can also generate heat in childhood and adolescence very exciting."

Professor Symonds and his team say their ground-breaking research could lead to a better understanding of how brown fat balances the energy from the food we eat with the energy our bodies actually use up.

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 and adults.

Non-invasive technology

Professor Symonds said: "Using our imaging technique we can locate brown fat and assess its capacity to produce . It avoids harmful techniques which use radiation and enables detailed studies with larger groups of people. This may provide new insights into the role of brown fat in how we balance energy from the food we eat, with the our bodies use up.

Explore further: Brown fat burns calories in adult humans

Related Stories

Brown fat burns calories in adult humans

January 24, 2012
Brown adipose tissue (often known as brown fat) is a specialized tissue that burns calories to generate body heat in rodents and newborn humans, neither of which shiver.

Calorie-burning brown fat is a potential obesity treatment, researchers say

June 6, 2011
A new study suggests that many adults have large amounts of brown fat, the "good" fat that burns calories to keep us warm, and that it may be possible to make even more of this tissue.

'Good fat' most prevalent in thin children

August 11, 2011
Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center and Children's Hospital Boston have shown that a type of "good" fat known as brown fat occurs in varying amounts in children – increasing until puberty and then declining - and is ...

Scientists identify protein that stimulates brown fat to burn calories

May 10, 2012
Scientists have identified a protein which regulates the activation of brown fat in both the brain and the body's tissues. Their research, which was conducted in mice, was published today, Friday 11 May, in the journal Cell.

Recommended for you

Study shows probiotics can prevent sepsis in infants

August 17, 2017
A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health has determined that a special mixture of good bacteria in the body reduced the incidence of sepsis in infants in India by 40 percent at ...

Children who sleep an hour less at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, says study

August 15, 2017
A study has found that children who slept on average one hour less a night had higher risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including higher levels of blood glucose and insulin resistance.

Low blood sugars in newborns linked to later difficulties

August 8, 2017
A newborn condition affecting one in six babies has been linked to impairment in some high-level brain functions that shows up by age 4.5 years.

Can breast milk feed a love of vegetables?

August 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—Want your preschooler to eat veggies without a fuss? Try eating veggies while you're breast-feeding.

Small drop in measles vaccinations would have outsized effect, study estimates

July 24, 2017
Small reductions in childhood measles vaccinations in the United States would produce disproportionately large increases in the number of measles cases and in related public health costs, according to a new study by researchers ...

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.