Does Your Brain Make You Fat?


Obesity risk is linked to genetic brain structure, thinking patterns, and mental performance, suggest researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital in Quebec, and the brain is where doctors and other health care providers should turn for answers about obesity.

The researchers analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cognitive test data from 1,200 participants in the Human Connectome Project, a long-term study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to obtain data about the brain’s structural and functional connectivity.

According to the researchers, people in the study who had a higher body mass index (BMI) demonstrated lower cognitive flexibility, an inability to delay gratification, and reduced visual-spatial ability and verbal memory. Brain imaging of those with a higher BMI revealed:

  • a thicker left prefrontal cortex and thinner right prefrontal cortex, which has been linked in previous studies to increased eating behavior
  • greater volume in the left amygdala, which is believed to play a role in food cue responses
  • decreased volume in brain structures associated with specific memories and context, suggesting an inability to fully consider the negative consequences of overeating

Because many of the study participants were siblings, including fraternal and identical twins, the researchers were able to determine that a number of the cognitive and neurological traits they observed have genetic links to obesity.

Sourced from: PNAS