Exposure to appetitive food stimuli markedly activates the human brain

Neuroimage. 2004 Apr;21(4):1790-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.11.026.


Objective: The increased incidence of obesity most likely reflects changes in the environment that had made food more available and palatable. Here we assess the response of the human brain to the presentation of appetitive food stimuli during food presentation using PET and FDG.

Method: Metabolic changes in response to food presentation were done in 12 healthy normal body weight subjects who were food deprived before the study.

Results: Food presentation significantly increased metabolism in the whole brain (24%, P < 0.01) and these changes were largest in superior temporal, anterior insula, and orbitofrontal cortices. The increases in the right orbitofrontal cortex were the ones that correlated significantly with the increases in self-reports of hunger and desire for food.

Discussion: The marked increase in brain metabolism by the presentation of food provides evidence of the high sensitivity of the human brain to food stimuli. This high sensitivity coupled with the ubiquitousness of food stimuli in the environment is likely to contribute to the epidemic of obesity. In particular, the activation of the right orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region involved with drive, may underlie the motivation to procure food, which may be subjectively experienced as "desire for food" and "hunger" when exposed to food stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Drive
  • Eating / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18