CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes 2022; 130(05): 290-295
DOI: 10.1055/a-1749-4852

Obesity – A Matter of Motivation?

Ruth Hanssen
1   Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany
2   Policlinic for Endocrinology, Diabetology and Preventive Medicine (PEPD), University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany
Sharmili E Thanarajah
1   Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany
3   Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Marc Tittgemeyer
1   Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany
4   Cluster of Excellence in Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-associated Diseases (CECAD), Cologne, Germany
Jens C. Brüning
1   Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany
2   Policlinic for Endocrinology, Diabetology and Preventive Medicine (PEPD), University of Cologne, Faculty of Medicine and University Hospital Cologne, Cologne, Germany
4   Cluster of Excellence in Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-associated Diseases (CECAD), Cologne, Germany
› Author Affiliations


Excessive food intake and reduced physical activity have long been established as primary causes of obesity. However, the underlying mechanisms causing this unhealthy behavior characterized by heightened motivation for food but not for physical effort are unclear. Despite the common unjustified stigmatization that obesity is a result of laziness and lack of discipline, it is becoming increasingly clear that high-fat diet feeding and obesity cause alterations in brain circuits that are critical for the control of motivational behavior.

In this mini-review, we provide a comprehensive overview of incentive motivation, its neural encoding in the dopaminergic mesolimbic system as well as its metabolic modulation with a focus on derangements of incentive motivation in obesity. We further discuss the emerging field of metabolic interventions to counteract motivational deficits and their potential clinical implications.

Publication History

Received: 29 July 2021
Received: 01 October 2021

Accepted: 26 October 2021

Article published online:
18 February 2022

© 2022. The Author(s). This is an open access article published by Thieme under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivative-NonCommercial-License, permitting copying and reproduction so long as the original work is given appropriate credit. Contents may not be used for commercial purposes, or adapted, remixed, transformed or built upon. (

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