The snacking rat as model of human obesity: effects of a free-choice high-fat high-sugar diet on meal patterns (2014)

Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 May;38(5):643-9. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.159. Epub 2013 Aug 27.

la Fleur SE1, Luijendijk MC2, van der Zwaal EM2, Brans MA2, Adan RA2.



Rats subjected to a free-choice high-fat high-sugar (fcHFHS) diet persistently overeat, exhibit increased food-motivated behavior and become overtly obese. Conversely, several studies using a non-choice (nc) high-energy diet showed only an initial increase in food intake with unaltered or reduced food-motivated behavior. This raises the question of the importance of choice in the persistence of hyperphagia in rats on a fcHFHS diet.


Meal patterns, food intake and body weight gain were studied in male Wistar rats on free-choice diets with fat and/or sugar and in rats on nc diets with fat and sugar (custom made with ingredients similar to the fcHFHS diet).


Rats on a ncHFHS diet initially overconsumed, but reduced intake thereafter, whereas rats on a fcHFHS diet remained hyperphagic. Because half of the sugar intake in the fcHFHS group occurred during the inactive period, we next determined whether sugar intake during the light phase was a necessary requirement for hyperphagia, by restricting access to liquid sugar to either the light or dark period with unlimited access to fat and chow. Results showed that hyperphagia occurred irrespective of the timing of sugar intake. Meal pattern analysis revealed consumption of larger but fewer meals in the ncHFHS group, as well as the fcHF group. Interestingly, meal number was increased in all rats drinking liquid sugar (whether on a fcHFHS or a fcHS diet), whereas a compensatory decrease in meal size was only observed in the fcHS group, but not the fcHFHS group.


We hereby show the importance of choice in the observation of fcHFHS diet-induced hyperphagia, which results in increases in meal number due to sugar drinking without any compensatory decrease in meal size. We thus provide a novel dietary model in rats that mimics important features of human overconsumption that have been ignored in rodent models of obesity.

PMID: 23979221

DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2013.159