Hormonal and neural mechanisms of food reward, eating behaviour and obesity

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014 Sep;10(9):540-52. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2014.91. Epub 2014 Jun 24.


With rising rates of obesity, research continues to explore the contributions of homeostatic and hedonic mechanisms related to eating behaviour. In this Review, we synthesize the existing information on select biological mechanisms associated with reward-related food intake, dealing primarily with consumption of highly palatable foods. In addition to their established functions in normal feeding, three primary peripheral hormones (leptin, ghrelin and insulin) play important parts in food reward. Studies in laboratory animals and humans also show relationships between hyperphagia or obesity and neural pathways involved in reward. These findings have prompted questions regarding the possibility of addictive-like aspects in food consumption. Further exploration of this topic may help to explain aberrant eating patterns, such as binge eating, and provide insight into the current rates of overweight and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Bulimia / physiopathology
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Eating*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Female
  • Ghrelin / physiology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Insulin / physiology
  • Leptin / physiology
  • Male
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Weight Gain


  • Ghrelin
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Dopamine