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Human cognitive function and the obesogenic environment

Martin, Ashley A., Davidson, Terry L.
Physiology & behavior 2014 v.136 pp. 185-193
carbohydrates, cognition, cognitive development, dementia, environmental factors, etiology, food intake, foods, hippocampus, humans, ingestion, laboratory animals, memory, obesity, overeating, risk factors, saturated fats, weight gain
Evidence is accumulating which suggests that, in addition to leading to unprecedented rates of obesity, the current food environment is contributing to the development of cognitive impairment and dementia. Recent experimental research indicates that many of the cognitive deficits associated with obesity involve fundamental inhibitory processes that have important roles in the control of food intake, implicating these cognitive impairments as a risk factor for weight gain. Here, we review experiments that link obesity with deficits in memory, attentional, and behavioral control and contemplate how these deficits may predispose individuals to overeat. Specifically, we discuss how deficits in inhibitory control may reduce one's ability to resist eating when confronted with the variety of foods and food cues that are ubiquitous in today's environment. Special attention is given to the importance of memory inhibition to the control of eating and appetitive behavior, and the role of the hippocampus in this process. We also discuss the potential etiology of both obesity and obesity-related cognitive impairment, highlighting non-human animal research which links both of these effects to the consumption of the modern “Western” diet that is high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates. We conclude that part of what makes the current food environment “obesogenic” is the increased presence of food cues and the increased consumption of a diet which compromises our ability to resist those cues. Improving control over food-related cognitive processing may be useful not only for combating the obesity epidemic but also for minimizing the risk of serious cognitive disorder later in life.