Increased Brain Reward Responsivity to Food-Related Odors in Obesity

Pengfei Han, Clemens Roitzsch, Annette Horstmann, Maria Pössel, Thomas Hummel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Objective Food odors serve as powerful stimuli signaling the food quality and energy density and direct food-specific appetite and consumption. This study explored obesity-related brain activation in response to odors related to high- or low-energy-dense foods. Methods Seventeen participants with obesity (BMI > 30 kg/m2 ; 4 males and 13 females) and twenty-one with normal weight (BMI < 25 kg/m2 ; 9 males and 12 females) underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan in which they received chocolate (high-energy-dense food) and cucumber (low-energy-dense food) odor stimuli. Participants' olfactory and gustatory functions were assessed by the "Sniffin' Sticks" and "Taste Strips" tests, respectively. Results Compared with normal-weight controls, participants with obesity had lower odor sensitivity (phenylethyl alcohol) and decreased odor discrimination ability. However, participants with obesity demonstrated greater brain activation in response to chocolate compared with cucumber odors in the bilateral inferior frontal operculum and cerebellar vermis, right ventral anterior insula extending to putamen, right middle temporal gyrus, and right supramarginal areas. Conclusions The present study provides preliminary evidence that obesity is associated with heightened brain activation of the reward and flavor processing areas in response to chocolate versus cucumber odors, possibly because of the higher energy density and reinforcing value of chocolate compared with cucumber.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1138-1145
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 515 Psychology
  • 3121 General medicine, internal medicine and other clinical medicine
  • 3143 Nutrition

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