Looking at pictures of high-calorie foods may trigger cravings for fattening foods, especially if consuming a sugar-sweetened beverage at the same time, study suggests

CHICAGO , July 3, 2012 (press release) – A study presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas, shows that looking at pictures of high-calorie foods may trigger cravings for fattening foods, especially if consuming a sugar-sweetened beverage at the same time. Researchers from the University of Southern California found that drinking a sugary beverage while viewing these foods activates appetite and reward centers in the brain, which could play a role in obesity.

The researchers measured the brain responses of 13 obese, Hispanic females, ages 15–25 years, as they looked at both high-calorie and low-calorie foods. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the women’s brains were scanned twice as they viewed images of foods such as hamburgers, cookies, cakes, fruits, and vegetables. After seeing all of the images, they were asked to rate their hunger as well as their desire for sweet or savory foods.

Halfway through the scans, the women drank 50 g of glucose, which is similar to drinking a can of sugary soda. In a separate instance, they drank 50 g of fructose. Glucose and fructose are found in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

The researchers found that the reward areas in the women’s brains were activated when they looked at high-calorie foods. Interestingly, consuming the glucose and fructose increased the participants’ hunger and desire for savory foods. The researchers pointed out that fructose resulted in more intense cravings and hunger among the women than glucose.

The researchers said they limited the study to Hispanic women because research has indicated women are more sensitive to food cues, and the Hispanic community has a high incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. More studies are needed to explore whether these cravings are due to obesity or genetics, the authors noted.

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