Psychology, Department of


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Nelson, T.D.; Stice, E. Contextualizing the Neural Vulnerabilities Model of Obesity. Nutrients 2023, 15, 2988. nu15132988


Open access.


In recent years, investigators have focused on neural vulnerability factors that increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain, which has provided a useful organizing structure for obesity neuroscience research. However, this framework, and much of the research it has informed, has given limited attention to contextual factors that may interact with key vulnerabilities to impact eating behaviors and weight gain. To fill this gap, we propose a Contextualized Neural Vulnerabilities Model of Obesity, extending the existing theory to more intentionally incorporate contextual factors that are hypothesized to interact with neural vulnerabilities in shaping eating behaviors and weight trajectories. We begin by providing an overview of the Neural Vulnerabilities Model of Obesity, and briefly review supporting evidence. Next, we suggest opportunities to add contextual considerations to the model, including incorporating environmental and developmental context, emphasizing how contextual factors may interact with neural vulnerabilities to impact eating and weight. We then synthesize earlier models and new extensions to describe a Contextualized Neural Vulnerabilities Model of Obesity with three interacting components—food reward sensitivity, top-down regulation, and environmental factors—all within a developmental framework that highlights adolescence as a key period. Finally, we propose critical research questions arising from the framework, as well as opportunities to inform novel interventions.

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