Can advertising make kids fat? 

Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and food marketing has been implicated as one factor contributing to this trend.  A week after the Hostess company, makers of Twinkies, went bankrupt, a member of Congress tried to raise unemployment even more and kill the entire industry by proposing elimination of marketing as a legitimate expense.

Every year, companies spend more than $10 billion in the US marketing their food and beverages to children and 98% of the food products advertised to children on television are high in fat, sugar, or sodium. In a new study, researchers used neuroimaging to look at the effects of food logos on obese and healthy weight children.

No surprise, 10 obese kids were delighted to look at logos of food brands they like.

They assessed - and you see the problem right away, just seeing that term - 10 healthy weight and 10 obese children, ages 10-14 years, using both self-reported measures of self-control and functional magnetic resonance imaging, which uses blood flow as a measure of brain activity. The children were shown 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos, and functional magnetic resonance imaging scans indicated which sections of the brain reacted to the familiar logos being shown.

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 which led the psychologists to conclude that showing that in certain situations, healthy weight individuals experience greater activation of control regions of the brain than obese individuals.

Which we knew. Cigarette smokers also have greater activation of brain regions than non-smokers when looking at cigarettes but that does not mean cigarette advertising makes them smoke.  Claiming advertising is the culprit would mean utensil advertisers should be showing commercials of spoons on Cartoon Network.

Upcoming in The Journal of Pediatrics