Neural correlates of food addiction

Ashley N. Gearhardt, Sonja Yokum, Patrick T. Orr, Eric Stice, William Corbin, Kelly D. Brownell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

453 Scopus citations


Context: Research has implicated an addictive process in the development and maintenance of obesity. Although parallels in neural functioning between obesity and substance dependence have been found, to our knowledge, no studies have examined the neural correlates of addictive-like eating behavior. Objective: To test the hypothesis that elevated "food addiction" scores are associated with similar patterns of neural activation as substance dependence. Design: Between-subjects functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Setting: A university neuroimaging center. Participants: Forty-eight healthy young women ranging from lean to obese recruited for a healthy weight maintenance trial. Main Outcome Measure: The relation between elevated food addiction scores and blood oxygen level - dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging activation in response to receipt and anticipated receipt of palatable food (chocolate milkshake). Results: Food addiction scores (N=39) correlated with greater activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, medial orbitofrontal cortex, and amygdala in response to anticipated receipt of food (P<.05, false discovery rate corrected for multiple comparisons in small volumes). Participants with higher (n=15) vs lower (n=11) food addiction scores showed greater activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the caudate in response to anticipated receipt of food but less activation in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex in response to receipt of food (false discovery rate-corrected P<.05). Conclusions: Similar patterns of neural activation are implicated in addictive-like eating behavior and substance dependence: elevated activation in reward circuitry in response to food cues and reduced activation of inhibitory regions in response to food intake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)808-816
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of General Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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