Brain Networks Can Play Role in Weight Loss Success

Scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine have shown that 2 specific networks in the brain can strongly influence how successful a person will be when trying to lose weight. These findings, published in the journal Obesity, may ultimately help in developing tailored behavior-based treatments that target specific brain circuitry to aid in weight loss, according to the study’s principal investigator Jonathan Burdette, MD, professor of radiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Two medical professionals looking at medical equipment.

The goal of this study was to determine whether the degree of weight loss after 6 months of a behavior-based intervention was related to connectivity within 2 functional networks (FNs), FN1 and FN2, in a group of older adults with obesity. Functional brain networks are areas of the brain that are working in sync. FN1 and FN2 were first identified by Dr. Burdette and his team in 2018 as being involved in successful weight loss.

“These findings show that the brain network properties of people who were less successful at weight loss were different from folks who were more successful,” Dr. Burdette said. “Some people have a stronger unconscious sensory motor bias to pursue food, while others appear to have less. In a society of food abundance with food cues everywhere, this information can help explain why some people have such difficulty in taking off excess weight and maintaining it.”

This is the first study to link key concepts that have been identified as important in understanding obesity and overeating to success with behavioral weight loss among older adults with obesity.

“Our findings provide further insight into complex functional circuits in the brain, so we now have a mechanistic understanding of why people aren’t losing weight,” Dr. Burdette said. “In theory, if we know more about urges and control, we will be able to tailor therapies to an individual as opposed to treating everyone the same.”