Food reward, hyperphagia, and obesity

Hans Rudolf Berthoud, Natalie R. Lenard, Andrew C. Shin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Given the unabated obesity problem, there is increasing appreciation of expressions like "my eyes are bigger than my stomach," and recent studies in rodents and humans suggest that dysregu-lated brain reward pathways may be contributing not only to drug addiction but also to increased intake of palatable foods and ultimately obesity. After describing recent progress in revealing the neural pathways and mechanisms underlying food reward and the attribution of incentive salience by internal state signals, we analyze the potentially circular relationship between palatable food intake, hyperphagia, and obesity. Are there preexisting individual differences in reward functions at an early age, and could they be responsible for development of obesity later in life? Does repeated exposure to palatable foods set off a cascade of sensitization as in drug and alcohol addiction? Are reward functions altered by secondary effects of the obese state, such as increased signaling through inflammatory, oxidative, and mitochondrial stress pathways? Answering these questions will significantly impact prevention and treatment of obesity and its ensuing comorbidities as well as eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1266-1277
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Body weight
  • Food addiction
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Liking
  • Motivation
  • Neuroim-aging
  • Palatability
  • Reinforcement
  • Wanting
  • Weight loss


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