Sex differences in brain responses to food stimuli: a meta-analysis on neuroimaging studies

Obes Rev. 2018 Aug;19(8):1110-1115. doi: 10.1111/obr.12697. Epub 2018 May 27.


The aims of the current study were to update the inclusion list of relevant neuroimaging studies, meta-analyse the neuroimaging data and thus synthesize a brain map showing locations with differential activations between men and women. Published studies to 2017 were retrieved and included into the analysis if they evaluated patients' brain responses to food or eating stimuli with functional magnetic resonance imaging or positron emission tomography and reported activation differences between the sexes in the form of brain coordinates based on whole-brain analysis. Eight studies that comprised a total of 231 participants fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Men had larger neural responses to food stimuli than women in the anterior and middle cingulate, which are related to emotion regulation. Meanwhile, women had larger neural responses to food stimuli than men in the parahippocampus, the thalamus and the precuneus, which are collectively relevant in the context of promotion of eating. The differential brain responses to food or eating stimuli between men and women may shed light on the neurobiology to help explain the sex differences in eating behaviour.

Keywords: Eating; food; neuroimaging; sex.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*