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The brain spends half the child's energy – and it can be crucial for weight gain



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Weight gain occurs when a person's energy consumption exceeds their energy consumption – in other words, when calories exceed calories. What is less well understood is the fact that in almost half of the body's energy is used in the brain in early childhood.

In a New Paper Published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( PNAS ), "A hypothesis linking the brain's energy needs to obesity risk" authors Christopher Kuzawa of Northwestern University and Clancy Blair from the New York University School of Medicine suggests that variation in energy needs of cross-brain brain development ̵

1; in terms of the timing, intensity and duration of energy consumption – could affect energy consumption costs and weight gain.

"We all know that how much energy our body burns is an important influence on weight gain," says Kuzawa, a professor of anthropology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a faculty colleague with the Department of Political Research at Northwestern. "When children are 5, their brains use almost half of their body's energy, and yet we have no idea how much brain energy consumption varies between children. This is a big hole in our understanding of energy consumption."

"An important purpose of our paper is to draw attention to this cloth in understanding and encourage researchers to measure brain energy consumption in future studies of childhood development, especially those focusing on understanding weight gain and obesity risk."

According to the authors, another important unknown is whether programs designed to stimulate brain development through enrichment, such as preschool programs such as Head Start, can affect the brain's energy consumption pattern.

"We consider it plausible that increased energy consumption at the brain could be an unexpected benefit to child development programs, which of course have many other benefits," Kuzawa said. "It would be a great win-win."

This new hypothesis was inspired by Kuzawa and his colleague's 2014 study, showing that the brain uses a lifetime position of two-thirds of the body's dormant energy consumption, and nearly half of total spending when the children are five years old. This study also showed that ages where the brain's energy needs increase during early childhood are also ages of decreasing weight gain. As the energy needed for brain development falls in older children and adolescents, the weight gain increases in parallel.

"This finding confirmed a long-standing hypothesis in anthropology that human children developed a much slower rate of childhood growth compared to other mammals and primates in part because their brains required more energy to develop," Kuzawa said.

"A hypothesis linking the brain's energy needs to obesity risk," publishes the week of June 17 in PNAS .


A long childhood feeds on the hungry human brain


More Information:
Christopher W. Kuzawa et al., "A hypothesis that connects the brain's energy needs with obesity risk," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1816908116

Provided by
Northwestern University

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The brain spends half of the child's energy – and that can affect weight gain (2019, June 17)
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