In many countries, children are bombarded multiple times a day with food advertising, including commercials promoting junk food. It is estimated that the food industry in the United States spends around $1.8 billion a year promoting their products to children and adolescents. Children between the ages of 2-5 years are likely to view more than 1,000 advertisements per year, and teenagers almost 2,000.
Most kids' food commercials advertise foods high in fat, sugar, sodium. The exploitative nature of child-focused food advertising has prompted concern about the potentially harmful effects food commercials may have on children's health.
Television advertising and branding have been shown to affect both food familiarity and preference, and has been identified as a substantial factor in food choices and overeating that results in obesity. Anew study now finds that food commercials targeting children impact their brain activity and influence them to make impulsive decisions regarding their food choices.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated a relationship between marketing junk foods and an increased risk of childhood obesity. A previous study showed that when observing food brand logos, obese children demonstrate reactivity in the brain’s cortical region known to be associated with self-control.
The new study, which centered on children between the ages of 8-14 years who provided taste and health ratings for 60 food items, examined whether food choices and brain activity were altered after viewing food commercials.
Results from functional MRI (FMRI) conducted on the children highlighted that, overall, their decisions on the foods they wanted to eat were driven by tastiness rather than healthfulness. The study showed that after watching food commercials, children favored specific foods and placed an even greater emphasis on taste attributes of these foods.
The researchers say, "Food commercials may prompt children to like and want specific food items, irrespective of the lack of any health benefits. This could indicate that food commercials stimulate children's brains in a way that non-food commercials do not.” The study also showed that when children are hungry, the effect of food commercials on brain activity may be particularly noticeable.