Women less able to control food cravings – study
Women may be less able to control their cravings for their favorite foods than men, according to a new study that documents gender disparities in how people suppress their desires for food – a fact that could help explain women’s higher rates of obesity.
Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton used brain imaging to tag areas of the brain that are activated when research subjects were presented with the sights and smells of the dishes they liked best – and found that men were better able to put their urges in check.
“Food is so plentiful and affordable,” said Gene-Jack Wang, the lead researcher in the three-year study. “On Long Island, we have a lot of ‘all you can eat’ eateries. Some people eat only one plate – but some people cannot. They eat more than one plate so there must be something different in these kinds of people.”
Gender was the dividing line for 13 women and 10 men in the study, but it was unclear why it was. The results are to be published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was funded by the General Clinical Research Center of Stony Brook University, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The volunteers’ brains were scanned as they saw their favorite foods. They were asked to note the smell and taste but not eat it. On another scan day, they were instructed to curb their desire for food using an inhibition technique learned previously.
Women and men said the technique did decrease their hunger, but women’s brains stayed stimulated while men’s brain activity went down.
In a 2007 National Center for Health Statistics study, 33.3 percent of men and 35.3 percent of women were obese in 2006.
Wang said this may be the first study of its kind. “The finding of a lack of response to inhibition in women is consistent with behavioral studies showing that women have a higher tendency than men to overeat when presented with palatable food or under emotional distress,” he said. “This decreased inhibitory control in women could be a major factor contributing to the observed differences in the prevalence rates of obesity and eating disorders . . . and may also underlie women’s lower success in losing weight while dieting when compared with men,” he said.