Worldwide, obesity is on the increase in adults & children. It is currently viewed by many as one of the most serious threats to public health.
Changes in public policy are required to bring forth solutions to the obesity pandemic & it will require scientific insight, which will be invaluable for guiding those changes.
A major reason for the dramatic increase in obesity may be a heightened sensitivity to heavily advertised and easily accessible high-calorie food has been suggested in a new review of human brain imaging studies published by Cell Press in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Explains review author Dr. Alain D from the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, “Functional neuro-imaging of the human brain allows non-invasive mapping of brain activity in health and disease. It is now commonly used to try to understand the neural control of eating in humans, and patterns of brain activity 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.”
Neuro-imaging studies have led to the identification of a brain network for appetite control, uncovered learning and motivational signals that are linked with appetite, and helped to unravel how reward networks are linked with food intake. In the paper, Dr. Alain D discusses some of the more consistent findings of this research.
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. Studies have shown that brain mechanisms of obesity are very complex and are not just related to abnormalities in food-associated reward signaling.
It is important to note that obese individuals exhibit greater brain activation in response to sweet or fatty food cues, suggesting a key role for signals associated with motivation to eat.
Explains Dr. Alain D, “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”.