Brain regions implicated in inhibitory control and appetite regulation are activated in response to food portion size and energy density in children

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Large portions of energy-dense foods drive energy intake but the brain mechanisms underlying this effect are not clear. Our main objective was to investigate brain function in response to food images varied by portion size (PS) and energy density (ED) in children using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).


Blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI was completed in 36 children (ages 7-10 years) after a 2-h fast while viewing food images at two levels of PS (Large PS, Small PS) and two levels of ED (High ED, Low ED). Children rated perceived fullness pre- and post-fMRI, as well as liking of images on visual analog scales post-fMRI. Anthropometrics were completed 4 weeks before the fMRI. Large PS vs Small PS and High ED vs Low ED were compared with region-of-interest analyses using Brain Voyager v 2.8.


Region-of-interest analyses revealed that activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus (P = 0.03) was greater for Large PS vs Small PS. Activation was reduced for High ED vs Low ED in the left hypothalamus (P = 0.03). Main effects were no longer significant after adjustment for pre-fMRI fullness and liking ratings (PS, P = 0.92; ED, P = 0.58).


This is the first fMRI study to report increased activation to large portions in a brain region that is involved in inhibitory control. These findings may contribute to understanding why some children overeat when presented with large portions of palatable food.

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