As obesity continues to plague both American and European households, and now affects 155 million children worldwide, doctors and researchers alike are faced with developing new ways to combat obesity.

At the University of Nottingham’s Early Life Nutrition Research Unit, UK campus, researchers are pioneering thermal imaging as a technique to fight obesity. Michael Symonds, lead study author, managed a team of scientist and doctors at the University of Nottingham, who through thermal imaging process was able to observe brown fat and how quickly our body can burn calories.

Using a thermal imaging camera, researchers are getting the opportunity to observe the fluctuating temperature of body heat, more specifically just below the shoulder bones. In the shoulder and neck region is where brown adipose tissue is located.

Brown adipose tissue, which is commonly known as brown fat, harvests 300 times more heat than any other tissue in the body. Brown fat is what doctors call “the good fat,” because it plays a critical role in helping our body to burn calories. It is believed the more brown fat one has or the more active it is, can in turn determine how quickly one’s body can burn calories. Though infants are known to have more brown fat, which they use to retain heat after birth, researchers discovered brown fat may be very important in childhood and adulthood as well.

Thus far, with this non-invasive technology, Symonds alongside with Dr. Helen Budge, clinical associate professor and reader in Neonatology at the University of Nottingham, has observed the change in brown fat, and the reduction in brown fat from childhood to adulthood.

With thermal imaging, Symonds and colleagues look for the heat production from brown fat and then continue to use other imaging to be able to define areas of brown fat. The researchers also hope pharmaceutical companies will develop nutritional food that may be able to activate brown fat or add thermogenic index to foods to demonstrate if a product would increase or decrease heat production within brown fat.