Researchers at The John B. Pierce Laboratory and Yale University School of Medicine discovered that obese individuals have a greater ability to vividly imagine food and odors than leaner individuals. The findings were published in the journal Appetite and the study is entitled “Greater perceived ability to form vivid mental images in individuals with high compared to low BMI.”
Obesity is a serious public health problem worldwide. It causes a systemic inflammatory state in the body, which is associated with several chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and cancer.
It has been reported that obese individuals experience food craving more often in comparison to lean individuals. Food craving is different from a natural hunger feeling; it corresponds to an intense desire to consume a specific food, for instance chocolate.
It is known that mental imagery plays an important role in stimulating craving. In the study, researchers hypothesized that the mental imagery created by an individual and his/her ability to image might be linked to the body mass index (BMI) and contribute, at least in part, to the association between craving and BMI.
The team assessed 25 individuals with a BMI varying from 17.7 kg/m2 (considered underweight, mild thinness) to 34.2 kg/m2 (considered obese, class I). All individuals completed three questionnaires to assess their perceived mental imagery ability based on visual and odor cues (The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire, The Vividness of Olfactory Imagery Questionnaire and The Vividness of Food Imagery Questionnaire), and one questionnaire to assess food craving (Food-Craving Inventory).
Researchers found a positive correlation between the individual’s BMI and the perceived ability to image odors and foods. The higher the BMI, the greater was the ability to vividly imagine food and odors. Olfactory imagery was found to be the best predictor of BMI.
The team conducted a second experiment with a larger cohort of 57 participants with BMI ranging from 19.1 kg/m2 (normal) to 38.7 kg/m2 (obese, class II). The results were similar to the ones obtained previously, and confirmed a significant positive correlation between BMI and perceived ability to image odors.
The research team suggests that the greater imagery ability found in obese individuals, especially in terms of odors, may play a significant role in intensifying their food cue reactivity. The team believes that their findings support the idea of personalized care for obese patients taking into account factors that may increase the risk for weight gain of each individual.