Abdominal fat is associated with a greater brain reward response to high-calorie food cues in hispanic women


  • Disclosure: The authors have nothing to disclose.

  • Funding agencies: The study was funded by the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (P60 MD002254-01).



Exposure to high-calorie foods may promote overeating by stimulating brain reward pathways and appetite. Abdominal fat has particularly adverse metabolic consequences and may alter brain pathways that regulate feeding behavior. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to test the hypothesis that high-calorie food cues activate brain reward regions and increase appetite, and to examine the relationship between abdominal fat and brain reward responsiveness in Hispanic women.

Design and Methods

fMRI was performed while 13 volunteers viewed 12 blocks of pictures of food and non-food items. Participants rated hunger and food desire after each block of pictures. Brain activation to high-calorie foods was determined by calculating a contrast of high-calorie food minus non-food images. Pearson's correlations were used to test the relationship between brain reward activation and waist circumference.


High-calorie food images activated brain reward regions (Z > 2.3, P < 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons) and increased hunger (P = 0.001), desire for sweet (P = 0.012) and savory (P = 0.009) foods. The striatal response to high-calorie foods positively correlated with waist circumference, independent of BMI (r = 0.621, P = 0.031).


Exposure to high-calorie food images activates brain reward pathways and increases appetitive drive in Hispanic females. Abdominal fat, independent of BMI, parallels striatal responsiveness to high-calorie food images.