Discouragement of physical activity, low food quality, and increased consumption of calories from trans-fatty acids, which are often prevalent in disadvantaged neighbourhood, can disrupt the brain’s ability to process information flexibly, according to a latest study.
EXAMINING THE CORTEX IN DETAIL
In this comprehensive investigation, scientists delved deep into the cortex of the brain to understand precisely how residing in impoverished areas can alter specific brain regions, each with its unique roles. Previous research had already indicated a connection between living in underprivileged neighbourhoods and brain health. The study’s co-director, Arpana Gupta, PhD, explained, “We found that neighbourhood disadvantage was associated with differences in the fine structure of the cortex of the brain. Some of these differences were linked to higher body mass index and correlated with high intake of the trans-fatty acids found in fried fast food.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR REWARD, EMOTION, AND KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION
Gupta, emphasized the far-reaching impact of these findings: “Our results suggest that regions of the brain involved in reward, emotion, and the acquisition of knowledge and understanding might be affected by aspects of neighbourhood disadvantage that contribute to obesity.” She highlighted the importance of addressing dietary quality issues in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to safeguard brain health.
DEFINING NEIGHBORHOOD DISADVANTAGE
Neighbourhood disadvantage, as defined by the study, encompasses various factors, including low median income, low education levels, crowded living conditions, and a lack of complete plumbing. The research involved 92 participants, comprising 27 men and 65 women from the greater Los Angeles area.
A CLOSER LOOK AT BRAIN STRUCTURE
Researchers scrutinized the relationship between the area deprivation index (ADI) and neuroimaging results across four levels of the brain cortex. This detailed analysis aimed to uncover the intricate connections between neighbourhood disadvantage and brain structure. The participants underwent two types of MRI scans, providing insights into brain structure, signalling, and function.
INSIGHTS INTO CORTICAL MICROSTRUCTURE
Lisa Kilpatrick, PhD, the study’s first author, explained the significance of examining the cortex at various levels: “Different populations of cells exist in different layers of the cortex, where there are different signaling mechanisms and information-processing functions.” The study’s results pointed to changes in brain regions responsible for social interaction, reward processing, emotion regulation, and higher cognitive processes, all influenced by factors prevalent in disadvantaged neighbourhoods that encourage poor diet and unhealthy weight gain. These findings collectively suggest that such environments “disrupt the flexibility of information processing involved in reward, emotion regulation, and cognition.”