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Showing People Calorie Count May Change Behavior, Brain Activity

Certain food chain establishments now have to disclose calorie information on their menus. A recent study investigated whether calorie information changes how food choices are made. It found that seeing images of food that include calorie information not only makes food less appetizing but may also change the way your brain responds to the food.


Participants in the study included 42 undergraduate students at Dartmouth College, half of whom were dieting and half of whom were not. They were shown 180 food images without calorie information, followed by food images with calorie information. They were asked to rate their desire to eat the food in the images from 1 to 4, with 1 equaling “not at all” and 4 equaling “very much,” while inside a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI).


The researchers found that both the dieters and non-dieters rated the food with the calories displayed as less appetizing, with the results being stronger in the dieting group. The researchers also analyzed responses in two brain regions that motivate eating: The nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). They found that all of the participants showed decreased activation in these parts of the brain when calorie information was present, but that the brain activity of the dieters was more similar between the two types of images. The researchers hypothesized that this could suggest that dieters calculate calorie information even when it’s not explicitly stated.


Researchers from Dartmouth College conducted the study. It was published on November 2, 2018, in PLOS ONE.

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