Heightened vagal activity during high-calorie food presentation in obese compared with non-obese individuals–results of a pilot study (2014)

Obes Res Clin Pract. 2014 May-Jun;8(3):e201-98. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2013.05.006.

Udo T, Weinberger AH, Grilo CM, Brownell KD, DiLeone RJ, Lampert R, Matlin SL, Yanagisawa K, McKee SA.


Eating behaviours are highly cue-dependent. Changes in mood states and exposure to palatable food both increase craving and consumption of food. Vagal activity supports adaptive modulation of physiological arousal and has an important role in cue-induced appetitive behaviours. Using high-frequency heart rate variability (HF HRV), this preliminary study compared vagal activity during positive and negative mood induction, and presentation of preferred high-calorie food items between obese (n = 12; BMI ≥ 30) and non-obese individuals (n = 14; 18.5 < BMI < 30). Participants completed two laboratory sessions (negative vs. positive mood conditions). Following 3-h of food deprivation, all participants completed a mood induction, and then were exposed to their preferred high-calorie food items. HF HRV was assessed throughout. Obese and non-obese individuals were not significantly different in HF HRV during positive or negative mood induction. Obese individuals showed significantly greater levels of HF HRV during presentation of their preferred high-calorie food items than non-obese individuals, particularly in the positive mood condition. This is the first study to demonstrate increased vagal activity in response to food cues in obese individuals compared with non-obese individuals. Our findings warrant further investigation on the potential role of vagally-mediated cue reactivity in overeating and obesity.

PMID: 24847667

PMCID: PMC4031442

DOI: 10.1016/j.orcp.2013.05.006