Similar to addicted people, reward-related behavior has also changed in overweight people. Corresponding observations of the brain's reward center revealed that these changes directly influence the success of diets.
The German Society for Clinical Neurophysiology and Functional Imaging (DGKN) also reports on gender-specific differences: Particularly in women, the behavior-controlling brain region changes with the increase in weight. "In behavioral experiments, overweight compared to normal-weight women tend to choose short-term rewards more often, even if negative consequences follow," said Annette Horstmann, a neurobiologist in the Department of Neurology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. "They are quicker to indulge in a piece of chocolate — even if they know it will be detrimental to their figure. This difference is not observed in men."
Differences in the size of brain areas suggest that women need to exert increased willpower to successfully stick to diets. This behavior is "not observed in men," Horstmann continued. "At the same time, that would explain why diets don't show success for many overweight people," says the DGKN expert.
However, overweight people cannot be held solely responsible for their high weight. "Some studies indicate that predispositions can also lead to overeating," explains Burkhard Pleger, senior physician at the Day Clinic for Cognitive Neurology at Leipzig University Hospital. Whether the structural changes in brain regions "result from overeating, or whether they represent a predisposition, is the subject of current research".
The symptoms are comparable to the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol and drug addicts. "Therefore, it is necessary to build the therapy of obesity similar to the therapy of alcohol and drug addicts," said Joseph Claben, director of the Clinic for Neurology at the University Hospital in Leipzig. Psychological support and nutritional counseling are part of it. People's individual problems must be taken into account. Brain research is contributing to a better understanding of these problems, added senior physician Pleger.