A new study using brain imaging discovers brain activity in obese children is accelerated when they are shown food logos.
Moreover, areas of the brain related to self-control are more difficult to activate for obese children, say the researchers.
The relationship between marketing of food and beverages and obesity is an urgent concern as rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years.
Experts believe modern marketing techniques have contributed to this trend. Every year, companies spend more than $10 billion in the U.S. marketing their food and beverages to children. And 98 percent of the food products advertised to children on television are high in fat, sugar, or sodium.
In the new study, researchers used neuroimaging to study the effects of food logos on obese and healthy weight children. The study will be published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Amanda S. Bruce, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center studied 10 healthy weight and 10 obese children, ages 10 to 14 years.
Children were asked to self-report measures of self-control and functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed to measure blood flow as a measure of brain activity.
Bruce said, “We were interested in how brain responses to food logos would differ between obese and healthy weight children.”
The children were shown 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos, and functional magnetic resonance imaging scans indicated which sections of the brain reacted to the familiar logos being shown.
Obese children showed greater activation in some reward regions of the brain than healthy weight children when shown the food logos.
Healthy weight children showed greater brain activation in regions of the brain associated with self-control, when shown food versus nonfood logos.
Overall, healthy weight children self-reported more self-control than the obese children.
Experts say this finding supports adds to the body of research showing that in certain situations, healthy weight individuals experience greater activation of control regions of the brain than obese individuals.
“This study provides preliminary evidence that obese children may be more vulnerable to the effects of food advertising. One of the keys to improving health-related decision-making may be found in the ability to improve self-control,” said Bruce.
Self-control training may be a beneficial addition to obesity and behavioral health interventions, and may lead to greater success in weight loss.