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Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Jun 1;107(6):859-866. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy050.

Adolescents at high risk of obesity show greater striatal response to increased sugar content in milkshakes.

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Department of Nutritional Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, OR.



Children of overweight or obese parents are at a high risk of developing obesity.


This study sought to examine the underlying neural factors related to parental obesity risk and the relative impact of sugar and fat when consuming a palatable food, as well as the impact of obesity risk status on brain response to appetizing food images.


With the use of functional MRI, the responses of 108 healthy-weight adolescents [mean ± SD body mass index (kg/m2): 20.9 ± 1.9; n = 53 who were at high risk by virtue of parental obesity status, n = 55 who were low risk] to food stimuli were examined. Stimuli included 4 milkshakes, which systematically varied in sugar and fat content, a calorie-free tasteless solution, and images of appetizing foods and glasses of water.


High-risk compared with low-risk adolescents showed greater blood oxygen-dependent response to milkshakes (all variants collapsed) compared with the tasteless solution in the primary gustatory and oral somatosensory cortices (P-family-wise error rate < 0.05), replicating a previous report. Notably, high-risk adolescents showed greater caudate, gustatory, and oral somatosensory responses to the high-sugar milkshake than to the tasteless solution; however, no effect of risk status was observed in the high-fat milkshake condition. Responses to food images were not related to obesity risk status.


Collectively, the data presented here suggest that parental weight status is associated with greater striatal, gustatory, and somatosensory responses to palatable foods-in particular, high-sugar foods-in their adolescent offspring, which theoretically contributes to an increased risk of future overeating. This trial was registered at as NCT01949636.

[Available on 2019-06-01]

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