Appetitive traits from infancy to adolescence: Using behavioral and neural measures to investigate obesity risk

Susan Carnell, Leora Benson, Katherine Pryor, Elissa Driggin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We come into the world with enduring predispositions towards food, which interact with environmental factors to influence our eating behaviors and weight trajectories. But our fates are not sealed - by learning more about this process we can identify ways to intervene. To advance this goal this we need to be able to assess appetitive traits such as food cue responsiveness and satiety sensitivity at different developmental stages. Assessment methods might include behavioral measures (e.g. eating behavior tests, psychometric questionnaires), but also biomarkers such as brain responses to food cues measured using fMRI. Evidence from infants, children and adolescents suggests that these indices of appetite differ not only with body weight, but also with familial obesity risk as assessed by parent weight, which reflects both genetic and environmental influences, and may provide a useful predictor of obesity development. Behavioral and neural approaches have great potential to inform each other: examining eating behavior can help us identify meaningful appetitive endophenotypes whose neural bases can be probed, while increasing knowledge of the shared neurobiology underlying appetite, obesity, and related behaviors and disorders may ultimately lead to innovative generalized interventions. Another challenge will be to combine comprehensive behavioral and neural assessments of appetitive traits with measures of relevant genetic and environmental factors within long-term prospective studies. This approach may help to identify the biobehavioral precursors of obesity, and lay the foundations for targeted neurobehavioral interventions that can interrupt the pathway to excess weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 10 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • External eating
  • Genetic obesity risk
  • High-risk
  • Maternal obesity
  • Neuroimaging
  • Parental obesity
  • Review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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