Western-style diet impairs stimulus control by food deprivation state cues: Implications for obesogenic environments.

PMID 26002280


In western and westernized societies, large portions of the population live in what are considered to be "obesogenic" environments. Among other things, obesogenic environments are characterized by a high prevalence of external cues that are associated with highly palatable, energy-dense foods. One prominent hypothesis suggests that these external cues become such powerful conditioned elicitors of appetitive and eating behavior that they overwhelm the internal, physiological mechanisms that serve to maintain energy balance. The present research investigated a learning mechanism that may underlie this loss of internal relative to external control. In Experiment 1, rats were provided with both auditory cues (external stimuli) and varying levels of food deprivation (internal stimuli) that they could use to solve a simple discrimination task. Despite having access to clearly discriminable external cues, we found that the deprivation cues gained substantial discriminative control over conditioned responding. Experiment 2 found that, compared to standard chow, maintenance on a "western-style" diet high in saturated fat and sugar weakened discriminative control by food deprivation cues, but did not impair learning when external cues were also trained as relevant discriminative signals for sucrose. Thus, eating a western-style diet contributed to a loss of internal control over appetitive behavior relative to external cues. We discuss how this relative loss of control by food deprivation signals may result from interference with hippocampal-dependent learning and memory processes, forming the basis of a vicious-cycle of excessive intake, body weight gain, and progressive cognitive decline that may begin very early in life.