(CORDIS) — People exercise, follow diets and even pop pills in order to lose weight. But researchers in the United Kingdom say there may be a new way to fight the battle of the bulge. Their method? Thermal imaging. Presented in the Journal of Pediatrics, this innovative technique traces people’s reserves of brown fat, a special tissue that experts call ‘brown adipose tissue’, i.e. the ‘good fat’. Brown fat helps bodies quickly burn calories as energy.
The University of Nottingham scientists say brown adipose tissue generates 300 times more heat than any other tissue in the body. Basically, a person has a smaller chance of laying down excess energy or food as white fat if they have more brown fat. The thermal imaging process can give researchers the information they need to evaluate how much brown fat a body has and how much heat it generates.
Commenting on the sophisticated technology, lead author Professor Michael Symonds from the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Nottingham says: ‘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.’
Obesity is impacting the lives of Europeans and Americans. More than 150 million children across the globe are suffering from this relentless problem. And experts in the United Kingdom have seen the number of overweight children grow two-fold in the last 20 years.
‘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,’ says one of the authors of the study, Dr Helen Budge of the University of Nottingham.
According to Professor Symonds, this pioneering study could help researchers improve people’s understanding of how brown fat balances the energy from the food they consume with the energy their bodies expend.
The team identified how heat is generated in the neck region, which contains brown adipose tissue, in healthy children. This capacity grows in young children compared to teens and adults.
The researchers say they are using the results of their study to investigate interventions designed to promote energy use as heat, and in turn, hinder weight gain in both children and adults.
Noting how this technology is non-invasive, Professor Symonds says: ‘Using our imaging technique we can locate brown fat and assess its capacity to produce heat. 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 energy our bodies use up.’