Variability in reward responsivity and obesity: evidence from brain imaging studies

Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2011 Sep;4(3):182-9. doi: 10.2174/1874473711104030182.


Advances in neuroimaging techniques have provided insight into the role of the brain in the regulation of food intake and weight. Growing evidence demonstrate that energy dense, palatable foods elicit similar responses in reward-related brain regions that mimic those of addictive substances. Currently, various models of obesity's relation to reward from food have been theorized. There is evidence to support a theory of hypo-responsivity of reward regions to food, where individuals consume excess amounts to overcome this reward deficit. There is also data to support a theory of hyper-responsivity of reward regions, where individuals who experience greater reward from food intake are at risk for overeating. However, these seemingly discordant theories are static in nature and do not account for the possible effects of repeated overeating on brain responsivity to food and initial vulnerability factors. Here we review data that support these theories and propose a dynamic vulnerability model of obesity that appears to offer a parsimonious theory that accommodates extant findings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods
  • Functional Neuroimaging / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Reward*