We live in a society where food is plentiful, portion sizes have increased and exercise is optional. Until very recently in our evolutionary history, acquisition of calories for consumption required work. This is no longer the case.
We can drive up to a window, and for a few dollars, have literally thousands of calories handed to us from a window. Such lifestyle choices have contributed to these alarming statistics:
• Since 1990, rates of obesity have increased dramatically, to the point that more than 30 percent of the U.S. adult population is now obese.
• If rates continue unabated, approximately 75 percent of the adult American population will be overweight or obese by the year 2020.
• Obesity is also directly related to increasing health care costs. Recent estimates of the total costs of obesity in the U.S. are more than $140 billion per year.
Given these changes in lifestyle and magnified across a population, we end up with a societal obesity epidemic. The solution is easy: eat less and exercise more. Biology plays a critical role in determining poor health choices at the individual level, and these drives are largely regulated by the brain. Motivation and reward processing are especially important contributors to overeating and sedentary lifestyle in humans. Our research is aimed at understanding the biological roots of this resistance to healthy decision-making.