The Presence of Real Food Usurps Hypothetical Health Value Judgment in Overweight People.


To develop more ecologically valid models of the neurobiology of obesity, it is critical to determine how the neural processes involved in food-related decision-making translate into real-world eating behaviors. We examined the relationship between goal-directed valuations of food images in the MRI scanner and food consumption at a subsequent ad libitum buffet meal. We observed that 23 lean and 40 overweight human participants showed similar patterns of value-based neural responses to health and taste attributes of foods. In both groups, these value-based responses in the ventromedial PFC were predictive of subsequent consumption at the buffet. However, overweight participants consumed a greater proportion of unhealthy foods. This was not predicted by in-scanner choices or neural response. Moreover, in overweight participants alone, impulsivity scores predicted greater consumption of unhealthy foods. Overall, our findings suggest that, while the hypothetical valuation of the health of foods is predictive of eating behavior in both lean and overweight people, it is only the real-world food choices that clearly distinguish them.