An obesogenic refined low-fat diet disrupts attentional and behavioral control processes in a vigilance task in rats

Behav Processes. 2017 May;138:142-151. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2017.03.007. Epub 2017 Mar 18.


Diets consisting of refined foods (REF) are associated with poor physical (e.g., obesity and diabetes) and mental (e.g., depression) health and impaired cognition. Few animal studies have explored the causal links between diet processing and health. Instead, most studies focus on the role of macronutrients, especially carbohydrate and fat concurrently with how processed are the ingredients. We previously showed that a REF low fat diet (LFD) caused greater adiposity and impaired motivation compared to an unrefined control (CON) diet consisting of similar macronutrient ratios (Blaisdell et al., 2014). Here we test the hypothesis that the same REF LFD adversely affects attentional processes and behavioral control relative to the CON diet. Rats with ad libitum access to the REF diet for two months gained greater adiposity than rats consuming the CON diet. Rats then completed training on a vigilance task involving pressing the correct lever signaled by a brief visual cue whose onset varied across trials. A REF diet reduced accuracy when there was a delay between the start of the trial and cue onset. Poorer accuracy was due to increased premature responses, reflecting impulsivity, and omissions, indicating an inability to sustain attention. These results corroborate the links between consumption of refined foods, obesity, and poor cognition in humans. We discuss the possible causal models that underlie this link.

Keywords: ADHD; Attention; Impulsivity; Obesity; Rat; Refined diet.

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Rats