Health and Pleasure in Consumers' Dietary Food Choices: Individual Differences in the Brain's Value System

PLoS One. 2016 Jul 18;11(7):e0156333. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156333. eCollection 2016.


Taking into account how people value the healthiness and tastiness of food at both the behavioral and brain levels may help to better understand and address overweight and obesity-related issues. Here, we investigate whether brain activity in those areas involved in self-control may increase significantly when individuals with a high body-mass index (BMI) focus their attention on the taste rather than on the health benefits related to healthy food choices. Under such conditions, BMI is positively correlated with both the neural responses to healthy food choices in those brain areas associated with gustation (insula), reward value (orbitofrontal cortex), and self-control (inferior frontal gyrus), and with the percent of healthy food choices. By contrast, when attention is directed towards health benefits, BMI is negatively correlated with neural activity in gustatory and reward-related brain areas (insula, inferior frontal operculum). Taken together, these findings suggest that those individuals with a high BMI do not necessarily have reduced capacities for self-control but that they may be facilitated by external cues that direct their attention toward the tastiness of healthy food. Thus, promoting the taste of healthy food in communication campaigns and/or food packaging may lead to more successful self-control and healthy food behaviors for consumers with a higher BMI, an issue which needs to be further researched.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pleasure
  • Self-Control*
  • Taste Perception
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.