Addiction – Food Reward in Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is related to aberrant eating patterns. Overweight children eat faster, more frequently, and show poorer compensation after caloric preload. Previous studies suggest that obese children may have a diminished satiety response to food consumption and experience relatively increased food reward (i.e., reward does not diminish as it should following consumption). Consistent with this notion, behavioral studies focusing on the reward value of food have shown that obese children find food more reinforcing and are more responsive to food cues. Interestingly, these findings are similar to what is seen with drug addicts, who find drugs of abuse more reinforcing than casual drug users and are more responsive to drug-related cues. It has been proposed that enhanced perception or anticipation of food reward is a major factor driving obesity and it is thought that the cortico-mesolimbic dopamine circuit may mediate this perception. This circuit also modulates the enhanced reward and reinforcement of drugs of abuse seen in drug addicts, and may therefore represent a shared mechanism that underlies these distinct forms of addiction. Here at CIBR, we are examining neuronal activation in reward brain centers in obese and non-obese children utilizing functional neuroimaging, and we are also parsing out the circuitry that contributes to these diseases in animal models of obesity and drug addiction. These translational research projects aim to better understand the neuronal pathways that are involved in the enhanced reinforcement and reward observed in uncontrolled eating and drug addiction.   (See section on Eating and Endocrine Disorders.)

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