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Obese People's Brains React Differently to Food

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The different ways we think about food.
The different ways we think about food.
Photo: Wall Street Journal

Everybody's looking for someone to blame for obesity, whether it's advertisers, parents, salt, or economics. Well, the Wall Street Journal's got some ideas about it. Surprise! It's coming from inside your brain. Recent studies have come to the not-so-alarming conclusion that the brains of obese people react in entirely different ways to high calorie foods than those of people with healthy weights.

One of the studies looked at both obese and non-obese women, showing them photographs of high-calorie treats. Brain scans showed that the obese women's brains released dopamine and other "reward" associated chemicals. The same result occurred when the women merely heard words like "chocolate brownie" out loud. In other words, the mere thought of high-calorie foods triggered a chemical reaction in the obese women and did not in the others.

Another study tested emotional responses to food, and found that obese people would have an emotional reaction regardless of whether they were hungry or not. Again, in this case, non-obese people would not react unless they were hungry.

So, which came first, the fast food chains or the brain's rewards system? Doritos or dopamine? Results are inconclusive, but scientists do know that the brains of the formerly obese do not cease to produce these reactions.

· Eating to Live or Living to Eat? [WSJ]
· All Obesity coverage on Eater National [-E-]