Food or money? Children's brains respond differently to rewards regardless of weight status

S. Adise, C. F. Geier, N. J. Roberts, C. N. White, K. L. Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Brain responses to both food and monetary rewards have been linked to weight gain and obesity in adults, suggesting that general sensitivity to reward contributes to overeating. However, the relationship between brain reward response and body weight in children is unclear. Objective: The objective of this study was to assess the brain's response to multiple rewards and the relationship to body weight in children. Methods: We tested this by performing functional magnetic resonance imaging while children (7- to 11-years-old; healthy weight [n = 31], overweight/obese [n = 30]) played a modified card-guessing task to assess blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) response to anticipating and winning food and money rewards. Functional magnetic resonance imaging data were analysed using a region of interest and exploratory whole-brain approach. Results: Region of interest results demonstrated increased BOLD response in the striatum to anticipating food vs. neutral (control) and winning money vs. neutral. Whole-brain data showed that winning money vs. food was associated with increased activation in the striatum, as well as regions associated with cognitive control and emotion. Notably, for both approaches, these effects were independent of child weight status. Additionally, children's reported food responsiveness and emotional overeating were negatively correlated with the BOLD response in the left cingulate gyrus for winning food vs. money. Conclusion: Overall, findings from this study show that regions associated with reward, cognitive control and emotion may play a role in the brain's response to food and money rewards, independently of how much the child weighs. These findings provide insight into reward sensitivity in children, which may have implications for understanding overeating and the development of obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12469
JournalPediatric Obesity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Health Policy
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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