A new study has added to growing evidence that men and women have different drivers when it comes to obesity, with researchers saying that tailored treatment according to someone’s sex could be beneficial.

Using MRI, researchers identified brain signals specific to men and women that seem to confirm the differing obesity drivers between the two sexes. The research team also examined the data in relation to participants’ clinical and personal histories.

Senior author Dr Arpana Gupta, PhD, a brain, obesity and microbiome researcher at UCLA, explained: “We found differences in several of the brain’s networks associated with early life adversity, mental health quality, and the way sensory stimulation is experienced.

“The resulting brain signatures, based on multimodal MRI imaging, may help us more precisely tailor obesity interventions based on an individual’s sex.”

The research is believed to be the first data-led study to forecast sex-specific obesity standing using multimodal brain activity. It adds to previous findings around the differences in brain connectivity to help further understanding of the drivers of obesity.

The latest study also adds to previous work by Dr Gupta and colleagues, which found that in women with obesity, their eating tends to be linked to emotions and compulsive eating, whereas in men, gut sensations seem to play a greater role in eating behaviours.

The new study has suggested that changes in specific brain connections indicate that women with a high body mass index may be more drawn to highly processed foods, which could be linked to cravings.

Dr Gupta said: “In designing treatment plans for females with high BMI, it may be important to focus on emotional regulation techniques and vulnerability factors.”

The study involved 183 participants aged from 18 to 55. The group was made up of 42 men with non-obese BMI, 23 men with high BMI, 63 women with non-obese BMI, and 55 women with high BMI.

The participants answered questionnaires about anxiety and depression, childhood trauma, food addiction and personality traits, among others. They also had three brain MRIs to examine structure, function and connectivity, before all the data was used to predict an outcome.

One result supported previous findings that women with obesity may suffer from increased anxiety compared to men.

The authors commented: “Although causality is unknown, the strong associations between clinical markers, such as anxiety, depression, obesity and neural signatures suggest the importance of the bidirectional mechanistic connection of the gut-brain axis.”

Read the full study in Brain Communications.

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