Are TV Ads Making Kids Fat?

By Sari Harrar

Two amazing statistics from a brand-new University of Missouri-Kansas City study of kids’ reactions to food advertising:

  • Every year, companies spend more than $10 billion in the US marketing their food and beverages to children
  • 98% of the food products advertised to children on television are high in fat, sugar, or sodium

That alone is a great reason to turn off the set during commercials -- and to talk with kids about the foods they see there -- large and in living color.

But this new study found something even more disturbing: The brains of some preteens’ and teens’ react more strongly to food advertising than others. For the study, researchers showed 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos to a group of kids. Half the kids were at a normal weight, half were overweight. And the kids were given MRI brain scans as they looked at the logos.

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.  The findings are “preliminary evidence that obese children may be more vulnerable to the effects of food advertising,” lead researcher Amanda S. Bruce, PhD.

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