Health In Focus
  • Watching food advertisements influences food preference of a child
  • A portion of the brain is found to be more active during a food commercial
  • Impulsive preference for food after watching a food advertisement witnessed

Brain studies have been used in a recent study to understand the influence of food advertisements on children. Childhood obesity is growing rapidly and a cause for concern worldwide. The American Psychological Association states that childhood obesity has tripled over the last quarter century.
  • 20% of youth affected with obesity
  • Prevalence of obesity among 2 to 5 year olds doubled - 5.0% to 12.4%
  • Prevalence of obesity among 6 to 11 year olds doubled - 6.5% to 17%
  • Prevalence of obesity among 12 to 19 year olds tripled - 5% to 17.6%
It has been found that children who are obese during childhood have a higher risk of being obese as adults. This increases their risk for many metabolic diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer. It is extremely important to prevent obesity during childhood to ensure a healthier life.
Brain Studies Reveal Child’s Food Choice Influenced by Food Advertisements
Brain Studies Reveal Child’s Food Choice Influenced by Food Advertisements

Food Advertisement Industry

The food and beverage industries target children with their advertisements, as a way of getting their parents to buy their products. This is the same as placing candies and toys on aisles that catch a child's eye in a supermarket. When a child is impressed with the product packaging, there is a higher chance of the child convincing a parent to buy the product, irrespective of the health benefits of the food purchased.

In a new study, scientists have used brain imaging studies to identify the effect of advertisements on children. The money spinning advertisement industry allocates approximately US$1.8 million on advertisements aimed at children. With increasing number of hours spent in front of a screen, which could be a computer, television or even a smartphone, children are exposed to 1000 to 2000 advertisements every year.

Brain Activity While Watching Advertisements

Dr. Amanda Bruce and colleagues studied brain activity in children while they watched food commercials as opposed to when they didn't watch the commercials. Twenty three children who were in the age group of 8 to 14 years were included in the study. At the start, they were asked to rate 60 food items on how healthy or unhealthy they were. The researchers then carried out a functional MRI scan when watching a food commercial and during non-food commercials.

According to Dr. Bruce "For brain analyses, our primary focus was on the brain region most active during reward valuation, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex."

Immediately after the commercials, during the brain scan, the children who were part of the study were asked if they wanted to eat the food item they had just watched.

Results of the Brain Studies

The brain analysis and the food choices of the children revealed the following
  • Children were driven more by taste rather than health
  • Children were more focused on taste after watching food commercials than after watching non-food commercials.
  • Children had a faster decision time after watching food commercials.
Source: Medindia

Most Popular on Medindia