According to the World Health Organization, 35.8 million people are obese
Worldwide. The obesogenic factors contributing to this global problem are thought to
reflect a complex interrelationship between social, physiological, and environmental factors.
Behaviorally focused interventions focused on healthy eating, portion size, and public health
strategies to increase fruit and vegetable intake have reported modest success in addressing the
obesity epidemic. Appreciating how individuals differ in response to environmental
eating conditions remains enigmatic. Recent advances in neuroimaging have opened the
possibility of a new frontier by understanding the neural responses to food intake, visual cues,
and affective response to encoded memory of diet. The purpose of this study is to provide
a review of the emerging scientific literature on the use of neuroimaging to shed light on diet,
encoded memory, visual cues, and obesity through fMRI studies and the application
of these emerging applications to nursing science.
A comprehensive literature search using peer-reviewed research articles. PubMed
and CINHAL databases were searched using two sets of search terms “diet,” and “memory,”
and “fMRI” and “diet” and “memory,” and “visual cues.” Inclusion criteria include studies
using human subjects. Studies focused solely on disease processes were eliminated.
The research questions were: 1) what is the state of the science reporting fMRI to illuminate
understanding on the role of diet, memory, and visual cues on food choices? 2) How does the
neuroimaging literature inform nursing research concerning obesity prevention?
Twenty-two articles were located. Eleven met the inclusion criteria and ranged in publication date from 1994 – 2013. Each of the articles were published in a different journal and no articles were published in the nursing research. Only one article referenced obesity in the title; however, neuroimaging use is increasing in obesity research.
The body of knowledge being generated through use of fMRI to understand diet, memory, and visual cues on food choices is growing. Advances in fMRI holds promise for greater understanding of how individuals differ in neural response to complex eating behaviors. Nursing scientists working in obesity prevention should consider the emerging findings from neuroimaging studies and further study is merited.