Worldwide, women suffer higher rates of eating disorders and obesity than men do—and a recent study may help explain why. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory used PET scans to look at brain activity in fasting men and women as they were exposed to the sight, smell and taste of their favorite food. Some subjects of each gender were then told to try to ignore their craving for the food.
In men, this willful inhibition directly affected brain metabolism—the group suppressing their craving had less activation in the limbic and paralimbic regions, which control awareness of hunger and desire for food. The two groups of women, in contrast, had equivalent brain activity. This observation corresponds to the participants’ experience: the men who tried to ignore their craving felt a decreased desire for the food, but the women were tantalized despite their efforts at self-control. Wang also reported that the women’s brains showed a much greater response to their favorite food than men’s did, and he speculates that these findings may help explain why so many women struggle with their weight.