Adolescents view thousands of food commercials annually, but the neural response to food advertising and its association with obesity is largely unknown. This study is the first to examine how neural response to food commercials differs from other stimuli (e.g. non-food commercials and television show) and to explore how this response may differ by weight status. The blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging activation was measured in 30 adolescents ranging from lean to obese in response to food and non-food commercials imbedded in a television show. Adolescents exhibited greater activation in regions implicated in visual processing (e.g. occipital gyrus), attention (e.g. parietal lobes), cognition (e.g. temporal gyrus and posterior cerebellar lobe), movement (e.g. anterior cerebellar cortex), somatosensory response (e.g. postcentral gyrus) and reward [e.g. orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)] during food commercials. Obese participants exhibited less activation during food relative to non-food commercials in neural regions implicated in visual processing (e.g. cuneus), attention (e.g. posterior cerebellar lobe), reward (e.g. ventromedial prefrontal cortex and ACC) and salience detection (e.g. precuneus). Obese participants did exhibit greater activation in a region implicated in semantic control (e.g. medial temporal gyrus). These findings may inform current policy debates regarding the impact of food advertising to minors.
Keywords: adolescents; fMRI; marketing; obesity.
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