Body mass is positively associated with neural response to sweet taste, but not alcohol, among drinkers
Obesity is a large and growing public health concern, presenting enormous economic and health costs to individuals and society. A burgeoning literature demonstrates that overweight and obese individuals display different neural processing of rewarding stimuli, including caloric substances, as compared to healthy weight individuals. However, much extant research on the neurobiology of obesity has focused on addiction models, without highlighting potentially separable neural underpinnings of caloric intake versus substance use. The present research explores these differences by examining neural response to alcoholic beverages and a sweet non-alcoholic beverage, among a sample of individuals with varying weight status and patterns of alcohol use and misuse. Participants received tastes of a sweet beverage (litchi juice) and alcoholic beverages during fMRI scanning. When controlling for alcohol use, elevated weight status was associated with increased activation in response to sweet taste in regions including the cingulate cortex, hippocampus, precuneus, and fusiform gyrus. However, weight status was not associated with neural response to alcoholic beverages.