Individual Differences in Reward and Somatosensory-Motor Brain Regions Correlate with Adiposity in Adolescents

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The prevalence of adolescent obesity has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and research has documented that the number of television shows viewed during childhood is associated with greater risk for obesity. In particular, considerable evidence suggests that exposure to food marketing promotes eating habits that contribute to obesity. The present study examines neural responses to dynamic food commercials in overweight and healthy-weight adolescents using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Compared with non-food commercials, food commercials more strongly engaged regions involved in attention and saliency detection (occipital lobe, precuneus, superior temporal gyri, and right insula) and in processing rewards [left and right nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)]. Activity in the left OFC and right insula further correlated with subjects' percent body fat at the time of the scan. Interestingly, this reward-related activity to food commercials was accompanied by the additional recruitment of mouth-specific somatosensory-motor cortices—a finding that suggests the intriguing possibility that higher-adiposity adolescents mentally simulate eating behaviors and offers a potential neural mechanism for the formation and reinforcement of unhealthy eating habits that may hamper an individual's ability lose weight later in life.

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