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

Drug found that induces apoptosis in myofibroblasts reducing fibrosis in scleroderma

December 15, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers has found that the drug navitoclax can induce apoptosis (self-destruction) in myofibroblasts in mice, reducing the spread of fibrosis in scleroderma. In their paper ...

How defeating THOR could bring a hammer down on cancer

December 14, 2017
It turns out Thor, the Norse god of thunder and the Marvel superhero, has special powers when it comes to cancer too.

Researchers track muscle stem cell dynamics in response to injury and aging

December 14, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) describes the biology behind why muscle stem cells respond differently to aging or injury. The findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, ...

'Human chronobiome' study informs timing of drug delivery, precision medicine approaches

December 13, 2017
Symptoms and efficacy of medications—and indeed, many aspects of the human body itself—vary by time of day. Physicians tell patients to take their statins at bedtime because the related liver enzymes are more active during ...

Study confirms link between the number of older brothers and increased odds of being homosexual

December 12, 2017
Groundbreaking research led by a team from Brock University has further confirmed that sexual orientation for men is likely determined in the womb.

Potassium is critical to circadian rhythms in human red blood cells

December 12, 2017
An innovative new study from the University of Surrey and Cambridge's MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, has uncovered the secrets of the circadian rhythms in ...

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.