Drug dealers who give harmful substances to kids have nothing on food companies. Research shows that food manufacturers marketing fatty junk food to children have learned how to elicit brain responses that may hook kids for life on low-nutrition foods that ruin their health.
The rate of childhood obesity has tripled during the past three decades. A huge contributing factor: Food companies spend more than $10 billion annually in the U.S. marketing food and beverages to children. About 98 percent of the foods advertised to kids on TV are fatty, sugary and salty junk food.
A study at the Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center shows that the reward centers in the brains of obese kids are especially vulnerable to the televised marketing messages that push junk food. When scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain responses of 10 healthy weight kids with the responses of 10 obese children, ages 10-14 years, they found that the heavier children showed greater activation in reward regions of the brain.
The researchers believe that kids need training to resist the siren calls of junk food that are pumped into their brains by food companies. 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.