Eating Disorders, Obesity Determined By Brain Responses

The phrase "brains are wired differently" may actually apply to how people respond to food, says new research. A study now finds that the brain reacts differently to food for someone with an eating disorder versus someone who is obese.

From the University of Kansas, researchers took MRI images and looked at the reward and pleasure areas in the brain of people who suffered from anorexia nervosa, obesity, and Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes extreme obesity). When researchers showed pictures of food to those with anorexia, the reward areas in their brains showed significantly less activation. On the flip side, those suffering from obesity and the Prader-Willi syndrome had overactive responses to pictures of food. How does it work? Says Kyle Simmons of the Laureate Institute, when you see a picture of food, you automatically gather information about how you think it will taste and how that will make you feel. The region in the brain that this happens is the insula, or the "primary gustatory cortex."

What's interesting is that the reward area in the chronic overeaters' brains reacted similarly to those who struggle with addiction, says researcher Laura Martin. This could affect further studies into obesity and anorexia, two diseases associated with heart disease, diabetes, and even death.