A picture can say a thousand words, but according to a study presented at The Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting in Houston, a picture can also be worth a thousand calories. Researchers have discovered that looking at images of high-calorie foods stimulates the brain’s appetite control center, which leads to an elevated desire for food.

Senior study author, Kathleen Page, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, declared:

“This stimulation of the brain’s reward areas may contribute to overeating and obesity. We thought this was a striking finding, because the current environment is inundated with advertisements showing images of high-calorie foods.”

The team examined brain responses in 13 obese, Hispanic your women by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), as obese, Hispanic young women are at “high risk for continued weight gain and obesity.”

The researchers performed two fMRIs in each participant whilst they looked at a series of high- and low-calorie food images and non-food items. The participants were asked to rate their hunger and desire for sweet or savory foods on a scale from 1 to 10 after each series of similar images, and were asked to drink 50 grams of glucose halfway through the scans on one occasion and the equivalent amount of fructose on another occasion. The amount of glucose was based on sugar content in a can of soda, and both sugars represent table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Page explained that the team used fMRI to measure the blood flow in the brain, given that areas with increased blood flow suggest greater activity. They discovered the areas of the brain that were activated in response to viewing the images and how sugar consumption impacted activation in the brain as well as the participants’ score rating of appetite and hunger.

The findings revealed that just by simply watching high-calorie food images, areas in the brain controlling appetite and reward were activated in contrast to images that were viewed of non-foods. Furthermore, looking at pictures of high-calorie foods also considerably elevated the rating for hunger and the desire for sweet and savory foods.

They also discovered that after drinking either sugar drink, the ratings of hunger and desire for savory foods were also higher. The team noted that in comparison with drinking glucose, the fructose was more likely to produce a greater activation of brain areas involved in reward and motivation for food.

Page concluded: “These findings suggest that added sweeteners could be one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic.”

Written by Petra Rattue