Obesity and acute stress modulate appetite and neural responses in food word reactivity task

Susan Carnell, Leora Benson, Afroditi Papantoni, Liuyi Chen, Yuankai Huo, Zhishun Wang, Bradley S. Peterson, Allan Geliebter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obesity can result from excess intake in response to environmental food cues, and stress can drive greater intake and body weight. We used a novel fMRI task to explore how obesity and stress influenced appetitive responses to relatively minimal food cues (words representing food items, presented similarly to a chalkboard menu). Twenty-nine adults (16F, 13M), 17 of whom had obesity and 12 of whom were lean, completed two fMRI scans, one following a combined social and physiological stressor and the other following a control task. A food word reactivity task assessed subjective food approach (wanting) as well as food avoidant (restraint) responses, along with neural responses, to words denoting high energy-density (ED) foods, low-ED foods, and non-foods. A multi-item ad-libitum meal followed each scan. The obese and lean groups demonstrated differences as well as similarities in activation of appetitive and attention/self-regulation systems in response to food vs. non-food, and to high-ED vs. low-ED food words. Patterns of activation were largely similar across stress and non-stress conditions, with some evidence for differences between conditions within both obese and lean groups. The obese group ate more than the lean group in both conditions. Our results suggest that neural responses to minimal food cues in stressed and non-stressed states may contribute to excess consumption and adiposity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0271915
JournalPloS one
Issue number9 September
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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