Heightened sensitivity to cheap, high-calorie food is linked with obesity

April 5, 2012

Obesity is increasing worldwide in adults and children and is currently viewed by many as one of the most serious threats to public health. It is likely that solutions to the obesity pandemic will require changes in public policy and that scientific insight into obesity will be invaluable for guiding those changes. Now, a new review of human brain imaging studies published by Cell Press in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that a major reason for the dramatic increase in obesity may be a heightened sensitivity to heavily advertised and easily accessible high-calorie foods.

" of the human brain allows non-invasive mapping of brain activity in health and disease," explains review author Dr. Alain Dagher from the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University. "It is now commonly used to try to understand the neural control of eating in humans, and patterns of thought to underlie obesity have emerged. In particular, there has been great interest in looking at the brain for the source of vulnerability to overeating in a world of cheap, abundant, high-calorie food. As a result of this research, differences between lean and obese individuals are starting to emerge."

In the paper, Dr. Dagher discusses some of the more consistent findings of this research. Neuroimaging studies have led to the identification of a brain network for , uncovered learning and motivational signals that are linked with appetite, and helped to unravel how reward networks are linked with food intake. Studies have shown that brain mechanisms of obesity are very complex and are not just related to abnormalities in food-associated reward signaling. Research suggests that overeating has its origins where a person makes a food choice and that anticipatory signals play a critical role in the vulnerability to obesity. Importantly, obese individuals exhibit greater in response to sweet or fatty food cues, suggesting a key role for signals associated with motivation to eat.

"The emerging imaging literature supports the view that although there is not a single pathway leading to obesity, it is a neurobehavioral problem: a disease that results from a vulnerable brain in an unhealthy environment," explains Dr. Dagher. "The demonstration that humans are sensitive to food cues, such as advertising, especially when these food cues are associated through past experience with high-calorie foods, cannot be ignored. As for tobacco in the 1990s, the neuroscience of appetite will be called upon to inform and justify the public policy decisions that will be needed to address this most significant public health problem."

Explore further: Obesity is associated with altered brain function

More information: Functional brain imaging of appetite, doi:10.1016/j.tem.2012.02.009

Related Stories

Obesity is associated with altered brain function

February 9, 2012
In most western countries the annual increase in the prevalence and the severity of obesity is currently substantial. Although obesity typically results simply from excessive energy intake, it is currently unclear why some ...

Our brains on food: From anorexia to obesity and everything in between

April 3, 2012
The brains of people with anorexia and obesity are wired differently, according to new research. Neuroscientists for the first time have found that how our brains respond to food differs across a spectrum of eating behaviors ...

Recommended for you

Lactation hormone also helps a mother's brain

September 26, 2017
The same hormone that stimulates milk production for lactation, also acts in the brain to help establish the nurturing link between mother and baby, University of Otago researchers have revealed for the first time.

Image ordering often based on factors other than patient need: study

September 25, 2017
Do you really need that MRI?

Bone marrow concentrate improves joint transplants

September 25, 2017
Biologic joint restoration using donor tissue instead of traditional metal and plastic may be an option for active patients with joint defects. Although recovery from a biologic joint repair is typically longer than traditional ...

Researchers describe mechanism that underlies age-associated bone loss

September 22, 2017
A major health problem in older people is age-associated osteoporosis—the thinning of bone and the loss of bone density that increases the risk of fractures. Often this is accompanied by an increase in fat cells in the ...

Researchers develop treatment to reduce rate of cleft palate relapse complication

September 22, 2017
Young people with cleft palate may one day face fewer painful surgeries and spend less time undergoing uncomfortable orthodontic treatments thanks to a new therapy developed by researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry. ...

Exosomes are the missing link to insulin resistance in diabetes

September 21, 2017
Chronic tissue inflammation resulting from obesity is an underlying cause of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But the mechanism by which this occurs has remained cloaked, until now.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.