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Is obesity out of people’s control?

New research that suggests it is may be the answer to easily losing weight.

Startling new research suggests there’s a “switch” in the brain that regulates how your body converts food, be it into energy or store it as fat.

Researchers say that switch may not work in some people with obesity, meaning losing weight is not always as easy as changing your diet.

They believe they’ve discovered a mechanism in the brain that controls the body’s conversion of food into white fat or brown fat in the body.

WATCH: Pete Evans’ most outrageous (and unfounded) claims.

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What is white fat and brown fat?

White fat is the most common fat in the body and provides our bodies with energy, is a thermal insulator and cushion for our organs – so it’s good!

However, too much white fat in the belly (visceral fat) is associated with metabolic syndrome which can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

If excess white fat is found throughout the body, there’s an increased risk of breast, colon, oesophageal, gall bladder, and pancreatic cancer, and is associated with sleep apnoea and knee arthritis, which is not so good.

Brown fat exists to burn calories and generate heat, which leads it to be referred to as the “good” fat because it helps us burn calories rather than store them.

After infancy, the amount of brown fat we have reduces dramatically and adults that have more brown fat tend to be younger, slender and have normal blood sugar levels.

You generate brown fat by exercise, getting enough high-quality sleep and exposing yourself to the cold regularly, so exercise outside in winter or in a cold room.

The scientists at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute conducted the study on mice, but evidence suggests it would apply to humans too.

“What our studies have shown is that there is a fundamental mechanism at play that normally ensures that energy expenditure is matched with energy intake,” said Dr Garron Dodd, first author on the study.

“When this is defective, you put on more weight.”

This means that not only do scientists have a clearer understanding of why obesity occurs, but could also help with weight loss.

“Potentially we may be able to rewire this mechanism to promote energy expenditure and weight loss in obese individuals,” said Dr Gordon.

“For a long time, the missing piece to the puzzle was always why this occurs in the body.

“We’ve shown not only why this occurs but also the fundamental mechanism involved. It’s very exciting.”

He did warn however that inhibiting the switch to shed excess fat safely is a “long way off”.

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