Relation of Obesity to Neural Activation in Response to Food Commercials

Women sitting in a living room watching TV.


Teenagers’ brains respond differently to food advertisements than non-food advertisements and programming on television.



The Issue:

The average adolescent is exposed to some 6,000 food advertisements on television each year (2010 data). Most of the commercials promote food products that are high in calories, sugar, sodium, and/or fat.

These researchers wanted to better understand how food commercials impact the reward and attention regions of the brain, and how reactions might differ for obese teens compared to lean ones.



As expected, participants recalled, recognized, and liked the food commercials more than the non-food ones. The adolescents showed more activity during food commercials in neural regions for visual processing, attention, cognition, movement, somatosensory response, and reward. Surprisingly, obese participants had less activation during food commercials relative to non-food ones, possibly, because they “were using control strategies to reduce their response during food commercials,” the authors write.


About the Study:

Study participants were 30 adolescents (10 normal weight, 8 overweight, 12 obese) ages 12 to 17 years old. To standardize hunger they were asked to refrain from eating or drinking (except water) for the five hours before the test. They were told they were participating in a commercial recognition and product recall study. After they viewed a television show with the commercials (food and non-food ones) replaced with specially chosen ones, they were asked questions and their brains were scanned.