People who struggle with weight may be particularly vulnerable to junk-food ads because of distinct differences in their brains, compared to their leaner peers.
That’s the key conclusion of a new study involving children that found brain scans turned up significant variations in the effects of food advertising on those who were obese.
The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, is the latest to suggest the $10 billion spent each year in U.S. marketing of sugary, high-fat foods and beverage products to children is having a significant impact and may be a leading contributor to the nation’s obesity epidemic.
"This study provides preliminary evidence that obese children may be more vulnerable to the effects of food advertising,” said Amanda S. Bruce, who conducted the research with colleagues from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center. “One of the keys to improving health-related decision-making may be found in the ability to improve self-control."
Bruce’s study involved 20 children — half of whom were obese children — between 10 and 14 years old. Researchers monitored the children’s brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging machines, which track blood flow as a measure of brain activity, as they were shown 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos.
"We were interested in how brain responses to food logos would differ between obese and healthy weight children," Dr. Bruce said.
The results showed the food logos produced greater activity in the pleasure centers of the brain than their normal-weight peers. The scans also indicated leaner children had greater activity in regions of the brain associated with self-control, when shown food versus nonfood logos.
Dr. Bruce said the findings add to the body of research showing that healthy-weight individuals experience greater activation of control regions of the brain than obese individuals.