Attentional biases for food cues in overweight and individuals with obesity: a systematic review of the literature (2015)

Obes Rev. 2015 May;16(5):424-32. doi: 10.1111/obr.12265. Epub 2015 Mar 5.

Hendrikse JJ1, Cachia RL, Kothe EJ, McPhie S, Skouteris H, Hayden MJ.


Obesity rates have increased dramatically in recent decades, and it has proven difficult to treat. An attentional bias towards food cues may be implicated in the aetiology of obesity and influence cravings and food consumption. This review systematically investigated whether attentional biases to food cues exist in overweight/obese compared with healthy weight individuals.

Electronic database were searched for relevant papers from inception to October 2014. Only studies reporting food-related attentional bias between either overweight (body mass index [BMI] 25.0-29.9 kg m(-2) ) or obese (BMI ≥ 30) participants and healthy weight participants (BMI 18.5-24.9) were included. The findings of 19 studies were reported in this review. Results of the literature are suggestive of differences in attentional bias, with all but four studies supporting the notion of enhanced reactivity to food stimuli in overweight individuals and individuals with obesity. This support for attentional bias was observed primarily in studies that employed psychophysiological techniques (i.e. electroencephalogram, eye-tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Despite the heterogeneous methodology within the featured studies, all measures of attentional bias demonstrated altered cue-reactivity in individuals with obesity. Considering the theorized implications of attentional biases on obesity pathology, researchers are encouraged to replicate flagship studies to strengthen these inferences.