Background: The loss of self-control or inability to resist tempting/rewarding foods, and the development of less healthful eating habits may be explained by three key neural systems: (1) a hyper-functioning striatum system driven by external rewarding cues; (2) a hypo-functioning decision-making and impulse control system; and (3) an altered insula system involved in the translation of homeostatic and interoceptive signals into self-awareness and what may be subjectively experienced as a feeling. Methods: The present study examined the activity within two of these neural systems when subjects were exposed to images of high-calorie versus low-calorie foods using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and related this activity to dietary intake, assessed by 24-hour recall. Thirty youth (mean BMI = 23.1 kg/m(2), range = 19.1 - 33.7; age = 19.7 years, range = 14 - 22) were scanned using fMRI while performing food-specific go/nogo tasks. Results: Behaviorally, participants more readily pressed a response button when go trials consisted of high-calorie food cues (HGo task) and less readily pressed the response button when go trials consisted of low-calorie food cues (LGo task). This habitual response to high-calorie food cues was greater for individuals with higher BMI and individuals who reportedly consume more high-calorie foods. Response inhibition to the high-calorie food cues was most difficult for individuals with a higher BMI and individuals who reportedly consume more high-calorie foods. fMRI results confirmed our hypotheses that (1) the "habitual" system (right striatum) was more activated in response to high-calorie food cues during the go trials than low-calorie food go trials, and its activity correlated with participants' BMI, as well as their consumption of high-calorie foods; (2) the prefrontal system was more active in nogo trials than go trials, and this activity was inversely correlated with BMI and high-calorie food consumption. Conclusions: Using a cross-sectional design, our findings help increase understanding of the neural basis of one's loss of ability to self-control when faced with tempting food cues. Though the design does not permit inferences regarding whether the inhibitory control deficits and hyper-responsivity of reward regions are individual vulnerability factors for overeating, or the results of habitual overeating. Copyright © 2014 He et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
CitationHe, Q., Xiao, L., Xue, G., Wong, S., Ames, S. L., Schembre, S. M., et al. (2014). Poor ability to resist tempting calorie rich food is linked to altered balance between neural systems involved in urge and self-control. Nutrition journal, 13, Article 92.
- Decision making
- Habitual system
- Prefrontal system