A generation of young people is growing up with the logos of fast-food companies “branded” on their brains. Scientists say scans of children show the pleasure and appetite centers of their brains light up when they are shown advertising images such as the McDonald’s logo.
The study reveals that the same areas do not respond to well-known logos that are not to do with food. It suggests fast-food firms are tapping into the reward areas of the brain, and that these develop before the regions that provide self-control, leading to unhealthy choices.
“Research has shown children are more likely to choose those foods with familiar logos,” said Dr Amanda Bruce, who led the study. “That is concerning because the majority of foods marketed to children are unhealthy, calorifically-dense foods high in sugars, fat, and sodium.”
The finding comes in the wake of research which showed advertising had a pronounced effect on children’s eating habits. Children who tasted two identical burgers, one in a plain box and one labelled McDonald’s, preferred the latter.
“The theory is the increase in risk-taking behavior in adolescence is attributed to uneven development in brain regions associated with cognitive control and emotional drive,” said Dr Bruce. “The brains of children are ‘imprinted’ with food logos. Without the necessary inhibitory processes to aid in decision-making, youth are particularly susceptible to making poor choices about what to eat.”
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