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Study links obesity to brain disorder

NSW researchers have confirmed that obesity is in part a brain disorder and psychological counselling may also be needed to tackle the disease.

Australian Scientists believe giving obese people the same psychological counselling as those with anorexia nervosa could help their weight battle.

Researchers from the University of NSW came up with the theory after discovering that although obese people and anorexics weigh in at opposite ends of the scales, they share a similar condition affecting the brain.

Both groups have executive function disorders (EFD), which means they have problems organising their daily lives.

The researchers reviewed 38 studies on obesity and high-level brain functions and found obese people were prone to EFD.

When it comes to food, the scientists believe EFD can play havoc with an obese person's ability to plan diets and their ability to associate bad food choices with weight gain.

For anorexics, there has been some success in treating them using a type of psychological counselling known as cognitive remediation therapy, which strengthens their thinking skills in the hope they will become more flexible in their lives.

The therapy was developed at King's College London and is also used to treat people with schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The UNSW researchers believe similar success could be achieved with obese people and help improve their planning skills and eating behaviour.

Lead researcher Evelyn Smith said obesity was in part a brain disorder and not simply down to a lifestyle of too much food and too little exercise.

She said that with no cure for obesity and the failure of diets, education and exercise programs to help obese people shed their excess weight for good, cognitive remediation therapy was worth investigating as a treatment option.

"Dieting is difficult," Smith, whose findings on obesity and EFD were published by the international journal Obesity Reviews, told AAP.

"So together with cognitive remediation therapy they might be able to maintain their diet for a long period of time and change their lifestyle behaviours which have been maintaining their obesity."
Smith has launched a trial involving 10 obese people undergoing two weekly sessions of cognitive remediation therapy for a month to see if it helps them lose weight.

Her colleague Lesley Campbell, an obesity expert and UNSW conjoint professor, said it was hard to know if the therapy sessions would work, but given the lack of successful treatment options it was worth a go.

"We have to try and get the concept out there that obesity is not about a group of people willfully overeating," Professor Campbell said.

"There's something in the brain that makes it difficult.

"It's a very desperate situation so (using cognitive remediation therapy is) something that is worth trying."


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