Leaner Kids Have More ‘Good’ Fat

Children with active brown fat tend to be leaner according to a recent study, indicating the ‘good’ fat may play a role in regulating metabolism.

Researchers study brown fat to fight childhood obesityBrown fat, a type of ‘good’ fat tissue prevalent in babies and young children, may affect the metabolism, energy, and weight regulation for children as they mature, according to a recent study. The findings may help doctors curb the growing rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. and abroad.

“Increasing the amount of brown fat in children may be an effective approach at combating the ever increasing rate of obesity and diabetes in children,” said Dr. Aaron Cypress, a staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and senior author of the paper.

Brown fat burns calories to generate heat, in contrast to white fat, the most prevalent kind of fat in adults, which stores energy. Brown fat is most prevalent in babies and children, and declines after puberty. A previous study led by Dr. Cypress determined that brown fat is also found in 3 – 7.5 percent of adults, with women having the higher rates. Most adults have an increase in brown fat activity when temperatures are cold, while the latest findings determined that brown fat activity in children is not affected by outdoor temperatures, researchers found.

The newest study was conducted with 172 children between the ages of 5 and 21. Researchers scanned the positron emission tomography (PET) of the subjects to measure the fat activity. Active brown fat was found in 44 percent of the children. Kids between 13 and 15 had the highest percentage of brown fat and brown fat activity. Most notably, the amount of brown fat was not proportional to the child’s weight – in fact, the thinnest children had the highest amount of brown fat activity.

It is still unknown whether brown fat causes children to be thin or whether children that have more brown fat are thin. “That’s the billion-dollar question” said Dr. Cypress. “But we do know that brown fat is a core component of pediatric and likely adult metabolism.”

A study in 2010 at Joslin discovered cells in mice that can be triggered to transform into brown fat. This may have effect on later studies concerning brown fat.

“We might be able to combat the obesity and diabetes epidemics if we find safe ways of increasing brown fat activity,” said Dr. Cypress.

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