Overweight adolescents' brain response to sweetened beverages mirrors addiction pathways. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many adolescents struggle with overweight/obesity, which exponentially increases in the transition to adulthood. Overweight/obesity places youth at risk for serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes. In adults, neural substrates implicated in addiction (e.g., orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), striatum, amygdala, and ventral tegmental area) have been found to be relevant to risk for overweight/obesity. In this study, we examined three hypotheses to disentangle the potential overlap between addiction and overweight/obesity processing by examining (1) brain response to high vs. low calorie beverages, (2) the strength of correspondence between biometrics, including body mass index (BMI) and insulin resistance, and brain response and (3) the relationship between a measure of food addiction and brain response using an established fMRI gustatory cue exposure task with a sample of overweight/obese youth (M age = 16.46; M BMI = 33.1). Greater BOLD response was observed across the OFC, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), nucleus accumbens, right amygdala, and additional frontoparietal and temporal regions in neural processing of high vs. low calorie beverages. Further, BMI scores positively correlated with BOLD activation in the high calorie > low calorie contrast in the right postcentral gyrus and central operculum. Insulin resistance positively correlated with BOLD activation across the bilateral middle/superior temporal gyrus, left OFC, and superior parietal lobe. No relationships were observed between measures of food addiction and brain response. These findings support the activation of parallel addiction-related neural pathways in adolescents' high calorie processing, while also suggesting the importance of refining conceptual and neurocognitive models to fit this developmental period.

publication date

  • July 2016