During the past few decades the prevalence of obesity has increased remarkably. The increased availability of high-calorie food, leading to overeating, is acknowledged to be one of the factors responsible for the current obesity epidemic. Starting from an addiction model of obesity, it was investigated whether overweight/obese individuals display an enhanced responding -in terms of attention, self-reported food craving and calorie intake- to high-calorie food stimuli as compared to normal-weight individuals. Automatic and strategic attention to food was assessed by means of various behavioral measures, such as the Stroop task, the visual probe task, and eye-tracking, as well as measures of brain activity, i.e., event-related potentials. In general, subtle evidence was found that overweight/obese individuals automatically orient their attention to food-related stimuli to a greater extent than normal-weight individuals. Overweight/obese individuals also tend to consume more kilocalories in a bogus taste test than normal-weight individuals, particularly when they are in state of pronounced hunger. No differences between weight groups were found in measures of maintained or strategic attention, except in one study, of which the results suggest that obese/overweight females perhaps use cognitive strategies to avoid the confrontation with food stimuli when hungry. As effects were subtle and highly depending on the employed measures of attention, replication studies are needed in order to give definitive conclusions regarding the role of attention in the food intake of obese persons. This research is relevant, as it might have substantial implications for the treatment of obesity.

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I.H.A. Franken (Ingmar) , P.E.H.M. Muris (Peter)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Department of Psychology

Nijs, I. (2010, March 12). Attentional Mechanisms in Food Craving and Overeating: A study of an addiction model of obesity. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/18482