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Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 Sep;33(9):1063-73. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.138. Epub 2009 Jul 21.

Obese adults have visual attention bias for food cue images: evidence for altered reward system function.

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Psychiatric Neuroimaging Program, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN 37212, USA.



The major aim of this study was to investigate whether the motivational salience of food cues (as reflected by their attention-grabbing properties) differs between obese and normal-weight subjects in a manner consistent with altered reward system function in obesity.


A total of 18 obese and 18 normal-weight, otherwise healthy, adult women between the ages of 18 and 35 participated in an eye-tracking paradigm in combination with a visual probe task. Eye movements and reaction time to food and non-food images were recorded during both fasted and fed conditions in a counterbalanced design. Eating behavior and hunger level were assessed by self-report measures. Obese individuals had higher scores than normal-weight individuals on self-report measures of responsiveness to external food cues and vulnerability to disruptions in control of eating behavior. Both obese and normal-weight individuals demonstrated increased gaze duration for food compared to non-food images in the fasted condition. In the fed condition, however, despite reduced hunger in both groups, obese individuals maintained the increased attention to food images, whereas normal-weight individuals had similar gaze duration for food and non-food images. Additionally, obese individuals had preferential orienting toward food images at the onset of each image. Obese and normal-weight individuals did not differ in reaction time measures in the fasted or fed condition.


Food cue incentive salience is elevated equally in normal-weight and obese individuals during fasting. Obese individuals retain incentive salience for food cues despite feeding and decreased self-report of hunger. Sensitization to food cues in the environment and their dysregulation in obese individuals may play a role in the development and/or maintenance of obesity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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