Center for Public Health Nutrition

Your Brain on Food: Food Reward and Obesity

In addition to providing calories for sustenance, food is a strong natural stimulus to brain areas that mediate motivation and reward. Our brain circuitry has evolved to ensure a drive for eating as a critical survival behavior in both animals and early human civilizations. Contemporary Westernized society is confronted with a highly convenient and accessible supply of highly palatable foods that are high in energy density and that contribute to the excessive caloric consumption, which is believed to be at the root of the current 'obesity epidemic.' For the past 20-25 years, basic research and clinical therapeutic efforts have focused almost exclusively on how the brain mediates energy regulation in the context of survival. It is agreed that 'unregulated eating' in response to food hedonics and stress is probably at least as important in determining human food intake, and that functional circuitry is present in the mammalian brain to allow these aspects of feeding to override regulatory controls.

The symposium, Your Brain on Food: Food Reward and Obesity, was held on February 23, 2006 to increase understanding of the functioning of this circuitry, in order to develop rational new therapeutic and behavioral strategies to modify food intake patterns and perhaps the hedonic value of food itself. The event was well attended by University researchers, public health practioners, community members, clinicians, and students and the presentations are available below.