Breaking Down the Freshman Fifteen

So, apparently our neuroscience professors have been sticking humans into giant machines again over at the Geisel School of Medicine, but this time they came up with a particularly interesting result. Apparently, Dr. Kathryn Demos, who earned her Ph.D. in Psychological and Brain Sciences from the College, and her colleagues have discovered that brain scans can predict weight gain – and sexual behavior, by the by.

Oddly enough, their experiment is incredibly reminiscent of a very similar test in Dr. Seuss’ classic You’re Only Old Once! In the book, the elderly and rather pudgy protagonist undergoes a Herculean set of Seussian pokings and proddings including one test where he is bound to a table and then forced to sniff a series of foods while the doctors observe.

Did Dr. Seuss inspire Dr. Demos?In the actual experiment, incoming first-year students had their brains scanned as they saw pictures of appetizing food and attractive people. If their nucleus accumbens (or ‘reward center’ for those who do not speak biological gobbledygook) lit up when they saw a picture of a delicious chocolate cake, then those students tended to gain weight over the next few months. If it lit up at a picture of another person, those students later reported higher sexual activity. Interestingly enough, the two groups were separate – that is those who responded to food images did not have higher sexual activity, but did tend to gain weight. The same applied for those with tastes of a less Epicurean flavor.

Certainly, a very interesting study, especially in the context of America’s obesity epidemic. Personally, it calls to mind an evening in the fall of 2008 when I happened to hear a speech by pereniall political candidate and former Ambassador Alan Keyes. Keyes claimed that America’s obesity epidemic was a moral problem. Perhaps he was right after all.


–J.P. Harrington.