Energy balance is regulated by a multifaceted system of physiological signals that influence energy intake and expenditure. Therefore, variability in the brain's response to food may be partially explained by differences in levels of metabolically active tissues throughout the body, including fat-free mass (FFM) and fat mass (FM). The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that children's body composition would be related to their brain response to food images varying in energy density (ED), a measure of energy content per weight of food. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to measure brain response to High (> 1.5 kcal/g) and Low (< 1.5 kcal/g) ED food images, and Control images, in 36 children ages 7–10 years. Body composition was measured using bioelectrical impedance analysis. Multi-subject random effects general linear model (GLM) and two-factor repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) were used to test for main effects of ED (High ED vs. Low ED) in a priori defined brain regions of interest previously implicated in energy homeostasis and reward processing. Pearson's correlations were then calculated between activation in these regions for various contrasts (High ED–Low ED, High ED–Control, Low ED–Control) and child body composition (FFM index, FM index, % body fat). Relative to Low ED foods, High ED foods elicited greater BOLD activation in the left thalamus. In the right substantia nigra, BOLD activation for the contrast of High ED–Low ED foods was positively associated with child FFM. There were no significant results for the High ED–Control or Low ED–Control contrasts. Our findings support literature on FFM as an appetitive driver, such that greater amounts of lean mass were associated with greater activation for High ED foods in an area of the brain associated with dopamine signaling and reward (substantia nigra). These results confirm our hypothesis that brain response to foods varying in energy content is related to measures of child body composition.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience