3 Differences: Your Brain on Food and Obesity

Your brain on food functions differently than it does before you’ve eaten, and differently still if you have obesity. Through the magic of functional brain magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we have growing insight into your brain’s response to food cues and how that varies with obesity and meals.

  1. Food Memories. Before a meal, the brains of people with obesity are more active in areas related to food memories — locations, tastes, and portions.
  2. Arousal. The amygdala, linked to arousal and attention, is more active in people with obesity before a meal in response to food cues.
  3. Rewards. After a meal, an area of the brain involved in processing and evaluating rewards — the medial prefrontal cortex — shows increased activity in people with obesity.

These functional differences in people with obesity point to a greater response to external cues to eat. George Kennedy and Anastasia Dimitropoulos say in a new meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies published in Appetite:

An increase in easily available calories and heavily advertised fattening foods may lead people who
respond more to external rather than internal cues to develop the caloric imbalance that results in or maintains obesity.

New research tools for analyzing brain function — how meals and obesity affect it — provide yet another glimpse into biological mechanisms for obesity.

Click here to read more in Appetite.

Premeal Response to Food Cues, Obesity vs Normal Weight; image from Kennedy and Dimitropoulos in Appetite, 2014

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