Researchers at the council's cognition and brain sciences unit have discovered the first neurobiological proof as to why some people seem unable to resist food.
The research, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains with evidence how certain people are particularly susceptible to images of food but also helps to explain the power of advertising of food.
The researchers used scan to show the reward centres in some people's brains were particularly sensitive to food advertising and product packaging. They felt that greater stimulation of this area by food images is likely to encourage over-eating, and obesity.
The researchers showed people pictures of highly appetizing foods like chocolate cakes, bland foods like broccoli, and disgusting foods like rotten meat. The same time they measured brain activity using a sophisticated MRI scan. Afterwards the participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire that would help in assessing their general desire to pursue rewarding items or goals.
The results showed that the participant's scores on the reward sensitivity questionnaire had predicted the extent to which the appetizing food images activated their brain's reward network. The lead researcher Dr John Beaver explained that the previous studies in this area have assumed that brain activation patterns are similar in all healthy individuals. But he stated that these new findings demonstrate that, even in healthy individuals, some people's brain reward centres are more sensitive to appetizing food cues.
This they said would help to explain why some individuals are more vulnerable to developing certain disorders like binge eating. They also said that the study was very important to help understand the rapid incidence of obesity, as they felt that people were constantly viewing images of appetizing food through television advertising, vending machines, or product packaging that were shown to promote sales.
Dr Beaver stated that the findings might also have broader implications for understanding vulnerability to multiple forms of addiction and compulsive behaviours. He explained that the research demonstrates how the person's reward sensitivity may also relate to their vulnerability to substance abuse, and that the brain network they have identified is a hyper-responsive to drug cues in addicts.
Dr Ian Campbell, an expert in obesity from Nottingham and medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said appetite control was notoriously difficult and most dieters regularly fail to control their food intake. This research he said shows that it's not simply an explanation of loss of will power or greed but much more complicated.
He explained that it is an involuntary exaggerated neuropsychological response to pictures of desirable food presented through clever advertising that makes it incredibly difficult for some affected individuals to resist. He felt that this clearly shows that while individuals must retain a responsibility to do their best to control their intake of high fat high sugar foods this responsibility must be shared by the food manufacturers and advertisers. He said that it is important need to move away from a position of simply blaming patients to one of greater understanding, and support.