Eye-Tracking Shows Obese Patients More Susceptible To Visual Food Cues

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Alison M Gallagher PhD FHEA RNutr (Public Health)
Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition
Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE)
School of Biomedical Sciences
University of Ulster Northern Ireland, UK

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Gallagher: The main findings of the study were that overweight and obese males appeared to be more aware of food related images as compared to their normal weight counterparts.  Individuals, regardless of weight status also appeared to be more visually ‘tuned in’ to high energy dense food-related visual stimuli as compared to low energy dense food-related stimuli.  As high energy dense foods are overtly represented within the visual environment through food advertising, it may be of particular concern if certain individuals, in particular those who are overweight/obese, are demonstrating increased attention (an attentional bias) towards high energy dense food stimuli.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Gallagher: Previous studies have identified differences in visual attention to food images using a direct method of measuring visual attention (eye-tracking) in a female population. To our knowledge however this is the first study to successfully identify weight group differences in the visual processing of food-related stimuli using eye-tracking technology within a male population.  This provides evidence for a possible dysregulation of a visual food cue-associated reward system in overweight/obese males, with this weight group displaying greater attentional bias or visual awareness towards high energy dense food images than normal weight males.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Gallagher: The findings from this study and previous research demonstrate that there may be a link between increased awareness of our food-related visual environment and our weight status and/or eating behaviours.  Considering our current ‘obesogenic’ environment, this may be of particular concern and is a factor that should be taken into consideration as part of an integrated approach to designing interventions targeted at curbing both the development and maintenance of obesity.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Gallagher: We would recommend that further studies using eye-tracking technology as a direct method of assessing visual attention are required to clarify the potential role of attentional bias in the development and maintenance of obesity.


Body weight status and visual attention to food cues: an eye-tracking study
Katy J. Doolan, Gavin Breslin, Donncha Hanna, Kate Murphy and Alison M. Gallagher

Article first published online: 8 SEP 2014 | DOI: 10.1002/oby.20884


Last Updated on September 17, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD