'I just can't help myself': effects of food-cue exposure in overweight and lean individuals

Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Jan;35(1):142-9. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.117. Epub 2010 Jun 15.


Objective: Even brief exposure to the sight and smell of food has been shown to increase reported appetite, initiate 'cephalic phase responses,' and increase planned and actual consumption. This experiment tested the hypothesis that overweight individuals are especially sensitive to these established effects of food-cue exposure.

Design: Overweight (n = 52) and normal-weight (n = 52) participants were exposed to the sight and smell of a 'cued' food (pizza) for 60 s. Before and after this period, we assessed salivation, prospective (planned) portion size, and desire to eat pizza and other 'non-cued' foods. Participants were then offered ad libitum access to pizza.

Results: Consistent with previous studies, food-cue exposure increased rated hunger and desire to eat, increased prospective portion size of all savory foods, and increased salivation. In overweight individuals, cue exposure (i) elicited a significantly greater salivary response and, (ii) evoked a significantly greater increase in desire to eat both the cued food and another non-cued food.

Conclusion: After cue exposure, overweight individuals experience a greater motivation to consume food but do not desire or consume greater amounts of food. These findings are consistent with evidence that snacking and meal variability predict weight gain and they expose 'cue reactiveness' as a potential predisposing factor for overweight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appetite*
  • Cues*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Salivation
  • Satiation*
  • Smell