Do Food Marketers Know This? Obese Kids More Vulnerable to Food Ads

Junk Food Beckons Kids

The weight problem in this country is not going away any time soon. Childhood obesity is on the rise, with the numbers tripling in just one generation. Marketing to kids has grown too, and today it is a multibillion dollar industry, with the majority of products advertised failing on one or more of sugar / fats / sodium.

You would think some restrictions or regulation on advertising to kids would be welcome by Americans. Nope. The reasons:

  • It’s a free country, and anyone should be allowed to promote anything.
  • Advertising is protected under the 1st Amendment.
  • It’s up to parents and kids to show self restraint when choosing what to eat.

Let’s talk about the last bullet, self control, for a minute. Any parent will tell you how challenging it is to get kids to eat healthfully. Some parents have it easier than others, but getting your children constantly bombarded by commercials for junk food does not make it easy.

In a fascinating study published in the Journal of Pediatrics last week, brain scans of 20 kids were examined to see if there is a difference between the way normal weight children react to food ads vs. obese kids. The “ads” used were simply logos of various food companies.

Here is what the researchers discovered:

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. This 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. Read more…

The scientists suggest behavior modification interventions that focus on self control in order to aid overweight kids manage their diet. While that’s a good idea, what about a less tempting junk food environment?

  • U622683

    Less TV less bombardment. Technology is available to help.

  • James Cooper

    It’s hard to know how to deal with this, but it seems believable.

  • Dee_dee

    Don’t teach children that food is a reward or a comfort. So if they fall and get hurt don’t give them candy, give them a hug and a kiss. If they feel bad give them attention, not food.

  • Michele Hays

    There was an Australian study at U of Queensland that I wrote about a while back. It theorized that obese people were more likely to be reward-sensitive. What was interesting about it is that reward-sensitive people respond more strongly to ads about junk food – but not healthy food.

    In other words, it’s kind of the snake chasing its tail: marketers are able to influence people, but only when it comes to bad habits, since their job is influencing people they have no incentive to support good habits, therefore ads are obesogenic.

  • Casey

    Did you know that we’re actually giving tax deductions out to big companies that go ahead and advertise and market products that contribute to childhood obesity? Please sign this petition to ask Congress to support U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bill to end tax deductions for companies that sell junk food to children as part of negotiations to avoid a fiscal cliff.