The KUMC Center for Health Behavior Neuroscience (CHBN) was founded in 2010, with a joint investment from the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and KUMC to advance understanding of the brain basis of obesity and other health behaviors and to develop new treatments informed by neuroscience.
Investigators use functional neuroimaging and other neuroscience technologies to pinpoint brain function. Our initial functional imaging studies have identified brain regions that respond differently to visual food cues in obese and healthy weight individuals, and are positively correlated with reports of hunger in obese participants.
Our preliminary data indicate that unsuccessful dieting is predicted by decreased activity in parts of the brain implicated in behavioral inhibition and control (prefrontal cortex) and increased activity in the areas of the brain controlling the mouth and tongue. These results provide important clues about resistance to weight loss in diets. We are now analyzing the longitudinal data from the study in order to identify predictors of six-month weight loss maintenance.
Healthy behaviors are in part difficult to maintain because they are less immediately gratifying. In fact, exercise may initially be perceived as aversive. Despite this challenge, some people are able to persevere and experience long-term benefits. We hypothesize that brain processes underlying reward processing and impulse control will help us better understand mechanisms of obesity and health-related decision making.
The CHBN has reached out to form multidisciplinary teams across Kansas and Missouri. Specifically, collaborations have been established between the CHBN and other KUMC Centers, KU-Lawrence, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Children's Mercy Hospital, and the University of Missouri-Columbia. These team efforts have already led to significant funding from the National Institutes of Health.
In addition to the focus on obesity, a multidisciplinary research team in the Greater Kansas City Area is leading the way in understanding brain contributions to other health behaviors as well such as exercise adherence, which has been shown to improve health measures in all weight groups, and getting regular and sufficient sleep. Research is at a critical point and much work remains. The Kansas/Missouri team will continue to lead national efforts to understand the brain basis of these critical health behaviors and to develop new treatments to tackle this public health crisis.