A Laboratory-Based Study of the Priming Effects of Food Cues and Stress on Hunger and Food Intake in Individuals with Obesity

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2020 Nov;28(11):2090-2097. doi: 10.1002/oby.22952. Epub 2020 Sep 11.


Objective: This study aimed to assess the effects of exposures to food cues and stress on hunger and food intake and examine whether cue responses differ by weight status.

Methods: In a laboratory-based experimental study, participants (n = 138) were exposed to stress, neutral, and food cues delivered using an individualized script-driven imagery task on three separate days. After each cue exposure, participants ate high- and low-calorie snack foods ad libitum (Food Snack Test). Hunger was measured by visual analog scales.

Results: Food cues elicited significantly greater increases in hunger compared with neutral and stress stimuli. Cue-induced hunger did not differ by weight status. Participants consumed a similar number of total calories across stimuli. In response to food cue provocation, participants with obesity consumed [mean (SE)] 81.0% (4.0%) of calories from high-calorie foods, which was significantly greater than participants with normal weight (63.5% [3.6%]; P = 0.001). After the stress cue, participants with obesity consumed 81.4% (4.0%) of calories from high-calorie foods, which was significantly more than participants with normal weight (70.2% [3.6%]; P = 0.04). Energy intake from high-calorie foods did not differ by weight status after the neutral cue.

Conclusions: Among individuals with obesity, exposure to food and stress cues shifted consumption to high-calorie snack foods within a well-controlled experimental setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cues
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Young Adult