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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- Since Hurricane Katrina, a local researcher has been studying hundreds of 7- to 9-year-olds from Louisiana.

And what she found about their metabolism is making news in one of the top obesity medical journals, the International Journal of Obesity.

Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and kidney disease -- doctors have long known that if you have certain chemicals or markers in your body for inflammation, you are at much higher risk for these dangerous, even deadly, chronic conditions.

They can do blood tests to see just how high they are. The inflammation is especially bad in belly fat, inflaming the organs so they don't work right.

'It sort of makes the body, tricks the body into thinking that it needs to eat, because these fats cells communicate with the brain. It's telling the brain that you're not full when you're eating. It's telling the brain that you're hungry when you're not,' said Dr. Melinda Sothern Melinda Sothern, a public health and obesity expert at LSU Health Sciences Center.

But that's for adults and teens. But now, breakthrough research done here in New Orleans shows inflammation in children is different.

It surprised Dr. Sothern and her colleagues at LSUHSC.

'We didn't find what people find in adults. We were so surprised with our findings. This was very much unexplained and unexpected,' said Dr. Sothern, who said they ran the results 25 times to make sure these unusual results were accurate. 'We found that the higher the inflammation in the children, the lower the fat around the stomach and the lower the fat in the liver. In our study, the inflammation that causes problems when you're an adult was actually shown to be beneficial to keeping fat levels in the stomach down and fat levels in the liver, more importantly, down.'

For good health it's still very important that children keep a normal weight. But this finding could open new doors.

'Obesity is a very, very complex condition. We still don't know what causes it, especially in children. We don't understand why some children develop obesity at a very young age.'

This inflammation may protect children during their major growth changes. So Dr. Sothern will continue to study some of those same children who are now into their teen years.

This study may have doctors rethink how to treat diseases such as asthma, that are known to increase inflammation. Asthma can be treated with steroids that decrease inflammation. Steroid use in youth is also associated with obesity later in life.

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