Heat-seeking cameras that analyses people's fat content could be the latest technology in the fight against obesity.
Brown fat, the body's so-called ‘good fat’, burns calories by producing 300 times more heat than any other body tissue. Scientists think that if we have more brown fat, it could help us burn more calories and stop storing excess energy as ‘white fat’ around our waists.
Researchers from Nottingham University in the UK have developed heat-activated cameras to measure where brown fat is located and how hot it is. From there, they can work out which foods could help individuals lose or gain weight, the UK's The Telegraph reported.
Professor Michael Symonds led the research team that invented the thermal imaging process.
"Potentially the more brown fat you have or the more active your brown fat is, you produce more heat and as a result you might be less likely to lay down excess energy or food as white fat," he said in a report published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
"This completely non-invasive technique could play a crucial role in our fight against obesity. Potentially we could add a thermogenic index to food labels to show whether that product would increase or decrease heat production within brown fat. In other words whether it would speed up or slow down the amount of calories we burn."
In New Zealand, 63 per cent of adults are classified as obese or overweight.
Dr Jerry Greenfield, an associate professor at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, said scientists have long known that babies use brown fat to keep warm but have only recently discovered that adults also have brown fat.
"If you look at those who have quite a bit of brown fat, they tend to have lower weight and lower sugar levels," he said. "If they don't have very much brown fat, which is thought to be helpful in metabolic function, then they have higher sugar levels and weight."
Now scientists are hoping to develop a clearer understanding of the role brown fat plays in the way our bodies use energy.
"We don't really know the relative importance of brown fat in burning fuels compared to something like muscle because there is so much more muscle in the body," Dr Greenfield said.
"The next step is to work out whether brown fat plays a direct role in trying to control metabolic disease – working out whether more brown fat in the body contributes to a lower risk of diabetes and body fat overall."
Another plus about the new thermal imaging technology is that it removes the radiation risk associated with previous brown fat scanning methods.