"This study has given us a better understanding that obesity has a neurological disorder component. The findings have the potential to affect treatment of obese patients," said Pilar Dies-Suarez, chief radiologist at Hospital Infantil de Mexico Federico Gomez.

The team studied 30 children between the ages of six and 10 years old. Half of the children had a normal body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 24, and the other half exhibited a BMI over 30 which is classified as obese.

Each child was presented with three odour samples: chocolate, onion and a neutral odour of diluted acetone. The results showed that in the obese children, the food odours triggered activation in the areas of the brain associated with impulse and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder while the areas associated with impulse control exhibited no activity.

The chocolate smell elicited significant brain connections in obese children, compared to the normal-weight children.

The findings will be shared at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) next month.

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