Brain Scans Illuminate Potential Reasons Some Adolescents Are More Susceptible to Obesity

Kelsey Zaugg, PhD student in the BYU Clinical Psychology Program

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 children are affected by obesity in the United States today. 

Kelsey Zaugg, PhD student in the BYU Clinical Psychology Program, has committed her research to ensure that children are psychologically, physically and spiritually healthy.

Zaugg’s research involves MRI data and neuroimaging of the brain. She studies how the rewarding impact of food is related to obesity in children. Her goal is to see if there is an association between weight and brain structures involved in reward processing. 

By looking at parts of the brain associated with how we process rewards, Zaugg has been able to discover that these brain structures are different in their literal shape for adolescents with higher body mass indexes. Zaugg says, “This finding helps to illuminate a potential reason why some adolescents might be more susceptible to obesity than their peers.”

Her findings are currently in the process of being submitted for potential publication.

According to Zaugg, there are many factors that play into childhood obesity including brain anatomy. She said, “It is so much more than the societal stigma that a person is simply being lazy.”

Upon completing her PhD, Zaugg plans to work in an academic medical center alongside pediatric psychologists in a children’s hospital. She says, “I want to be a part of an integrated care model and work with physicians and psychiatrists to give kids the comprehensive care they need.”

Zaugg expresses her gratitude for the role she has played in helping children: ”In life, we will not be able to remove all challenges children may face, but we can do our part to limit some of the vulnerabilities of children so they can face challenges with a strong foundation.”

Learn more about BYU’s Clinical Psychology PhD Program here.