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Obese women may have learning deficit with food rewards

Obese women may have a learning deficit with food as a reward.
Obese women may have a learning deficit with food as a reward.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Is your wife or girlfriend obese or does she struggle with obesity? Her struggle may be that of a learning deficit, according to findings from a new study published on July 17. Researchers from Yale School of Medicine found obese women may not be able to learn the cues that predicted food as a reward.

Obese women and men were compared with individuals considered to have a normal weight. The observation consisted of predictions between money as a reward and food as a reward. The study participants were given a learning task in which they had to learn and modify cue-reward associations. This test had them predict which of the two color squares would give them a reward. Half of the participants received pictures of food (pretzels or chocolate) and the other half received money as the reward.

In the first phase of the study, the reward consistently matched with the same color square. The second phase reversed the reward of the food or money. During the study’s phases, the participants were asked the likelihood of a reward from either one color or the other. The findings showed obese women struggled with their predictions as opposed to obese men and individuals considered having a normal weight.

It is common in society to brand obese women as having a character flaw or personality deficit. Many individuals, both men and women, who maintain normal weight believe obese women have a lack of self-discipline or they are considered lazy. This societal stigma may add to the negative self-image of obese women which would increase their emotional stress. In turn, this stress may have them struggle to learn cues associated with food as a reward.

With any learning difference or learning deficit, many individuals may feel inadequate. The distorted association with food as a reward in which the study found as a learning deficit could be compounded by the negative self-image of obese women. It is suggested the partners of obese women give support instead of insinuating a character flaw or personality deficit.