Two New Studies Show How To Combat Childhood Obesity — See How Mindfulness Works

Mindfulness is the new trend sweeping the nation and it is beginning to be studied in an attempt to help with the childhood obesity epidemic.

A recent study was conducted through Vanderbilt University that studied the eating habits of 38 children, NDTV reported. Of the 38 children, five were classified as obese and six as overweight. The study used a series of questionnaires and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Overall, the study showed that unhealthy eating behaviors and obesity could be a result of an imbalance between brain areas that are associated with response inhibition, impulsive and reward. Co-author of the study, Kevin Niswender explained the reasons why mindfulness is important.

“In today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”

The study found that mindfulness could help to increase response inhibition and decrease impulsiveness. Co-author of the study, Ronald Cowan elaborated that the practice could help in the fight against obesity.

“We think mindfulness could re-calibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity.”

So what is mindfulness and how can it best be used with children? According to the University of Berkley, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

If children are more aware of what advertisements the see or what food they eat, they can better regulate their bodies and their appetites, the study suggests. In essence, the authors of the study suggests putting down mobile devices to increase awareness of the moment that we exist in.

Practicing mindfulness may sound difficult, but by taking a series of small steps throughout your day, individuals can begin to achieve it. Some suggestions include starting with breathing: awareness of the air moving through the body, especially when individuals feel intense emotions.

Individuals can also take in their surroundings: the sights, sounds, and smells that might otherwise fade into the background. As for thoughts and emotions, when the individual realizes that they come and go. Cognitive awareness – mindfulness, in essence – begins when individuals understand that they do not define the individual, freeing them from negative thought patterns.

Through a series of studies, mindfulness has so far been shown to offer a wide range of benefits. Mindfulness is beneficial in fighting depression, can help to boost the body’s immune system and can enhance relationships.

Mindfulness is beginning to be used in schools as well. Classrooms that employ mindfulness report reduced behavioral problems and aggression with students while increasing happiness and attentiveness. Teachers that were trained in mindfulness were shown to have lower blood pressure and greater compassion and empathy, according to the study.

While it’s generally agreed that mindfulness has no real side effects if conducted wrongly, some experts are worried that it is masking real concerns that could go untreated. According to The Guardian, using mindfulness in university settings could also make students feel like their normal coping methods of stress are not good enough, thus creating a stressful loop. Frank Furedi, an emeritus professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, agrees with the assessment.

“Mindfulness is a way of suggesting to students we expect you to be too messed up unless you go through this ritual.”

While students in the past may have accepted that they would be a bit nervous before an exam, now that worry may manifest into something greater that needs a larger ritual to overcome, Furedi argued.

The topic of mindfulness has emerged out of a greater understanding in how we interact with others. The fact that children are exposed to more and more screen time – whether through a TV, phone or computer – means that mindfulness of what they are seeing and hearing has decreased.

As a result, advertisements for junk food have increased their effect on children’s eating habits in a decidedly negative way, a second new study suggested from their research. The study from the University of Liverpool has concluded children’s diet is at least somewhat dependent on the advertisements for food they see, Medical Daily reported.

Lead author Emma Boyland, summarized the findings of the study showing how taking in so many advertisement for junk food have prevented mindfulness achievements in children.

“Children who were exposed to unhealthy food advertisements experienced a significant increase in their food consumption… Small, but cumulative increases in energy intake have resulted in the current global childhood obesity epidemic and food marketing plays a critical role in this. The effects are not confined to TV advertising; online marketing by food and beverage brands is now well established and has a similar impact.”

Mindfulness may be the latest fad, but the fact that it has become so popular shows that people are aware of the amount of technology that they consume and the dangers it has on our health. Individuals may want understand the need to unplug, but doing so on their own is a challenge. Mindfulness may be more of a process than should be needed, but if it can help us to be healthier in both mind and body, then maybe it’s something worth trying.

[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]