Neurobiology of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder in Youth with Overweight/Obesity Versus Healthy Weight

Liya Kerem, Avery L. Van De Water, Megan C. Kuhnle, Stephanie Harshman, Kristine Hauser, Kamryn T. Eddy, Kendra R. Becker, Madhusmita Misra, Nadia Micali, Jennifer J. Thomas, Laura Holsen, Elizabeth A. Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) occurs across the weight spectrum, however research addressing the coexistesnce of ARFID with overweight/obesity (OV/OB) is lacking. We aimed to establish co-occurrence of OV/OB and ARFID and to characterize divergent neurobiological features of ARFID by weight. Method: Youth with full/subthreshold ARFID (12 with healthy weight [HW], 11 with OV/OB) underwent fasting brain fMRI scan while viewing food/non-food images (M age = 16.92 years, 65% female, 87% white). We compared groups on BOLD response to high-calorie foods (HCF) (vs. objects) in food cue processing regions of interest. Following fMRI scanning, we evaluated subjective hunger pre- vs. post-meal. We used a mediation model to explore the association between BMI, brain activation, and hunger. Results: Participants with ARFID and OV/OB demonstrated significant hyperactivation in response to HCF (vs. objects) in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and anterior insula compared with HW participants with ARFID. Mediation analysis yielded a significant indirect effect of group (HW vs. OV/OB) on hunger via OFC activation (effect = 18.39, SE = 11.27, 95% CI [−45.09, −3.00]), suggesting that OFC activation mediates differences in hunger between ARFID participants with HW and OV/OB. Conclusions: Compared to youth with ARFID and HW, those with OV/OB demonstrate hyperactivation of brain areas critical for the reward value of food cues. Postprandial changes in subjective hunger depend on BMI and are mediated by OFC activation to food cues. Whether these neurobiological differences contribute to selective hyperphagia in ARFID presenting with OV/OB and represent potential treatment targets is an important area for future investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-714
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
  • fMRI
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • orbitofrontal cortex
  • reward


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