Obesity linked to brain and genes, says Montreal researcher

WATCH: A new study conducted in Montreal sheds light on what causes people to become obese. As Global's Dan Spector reports, the issue doesn't just come down to nutrition or exercise – it is rooted in the brain.

A new study done in Montreal sheds new light on what causes people to become obese and the problem may be all in your head.

Uku Vainik, a research at the Montreal Neurological Institute, believes obesity comes from your brain and your genes. He blames your food-deprived ancestors.

“We have this genetic urge to secure as much food as we can when food is available,” Vainik explained to Global News.

“Fast forward to now, we’re in this environment where food is always available.”

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The Estonian researcher studied 1,200 brain scans and cognitive behaviour tests. He found subjects with certain brain traits were likely to have a higher body mass index.

He also proposes that your body mass index will be affected by how your mind works.

“People with higher obesity have slightly lower scores in cognitive flexibility or certain memory tests,” Vainik said.

How good are you at multi-tasking or switching from one idea to the other?

“Cognitive flexibility may allow you to see a nice burger, but then you will switch to a nice apple instead,” explained Vainik.

So how can these revelations be applied to the battle against obesity?

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“We combine dietary advice with behavioural therapy to help people navigate the food environment,” suggests Vainik.

The researcher believes governments have a role to play too.

“We should make a system where bad foods are more expensive and good foods are cheaper so we’d eat good foods more often,” he said.

The head of a childhood obesity clinic in Plateau Mont-Royal agrees that the solution lies in far more than just exercise.

“Physical activity is only 10 per cent of the problem in obese families,” said Dr. Julie St-Pierre, a pediatrician who runs Clinique 180.

Though our brains and our genes may be stacking the decks against us, both researchers believe knowing the source of the problem is the first step in the fight against obesity.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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