The Effect of Marketing and the Emotional Processing of Food in Childhood Obesity



The World Health Organization claims that at least 2.8 million people die each year due to being overweight or obese - Wowza! Excessive body fat may directly cause diseases including diabetes, coronary artery disease, and a variety of mental health disorders. Since obesity is preventable and its consequences well known, why do so many people seem to struggle with it? There can be many reasons why someone might struggle with their weight, but this study tested the idea that media corporations are making it even harder to maintain a healthy weight. We all know that advertisements are trying to get us to buy products, but could they be changing the way our brain feels about commercialized food at a deeper level? Big Brother much?

The Scientists

Keon Ma, Undergraduate Student

Follow Keon's lab on Twitter @FrankMacMaster

Principal Investigator:

Dr. Frank MacMaster

University of Calgary

Dr. MacMasters' Website

The Science:

This study investigated the effects of common food advertisements on the reward centres of the human brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Children were shown both high and low calorie food, that was both advertised and not advertised while in the brain scanner. Interestingly, advertised high calorie foods activated craving pathways in the brain more than the other types of food. This study suggests that marketing in the food industry is likely playing a role in maintaining the food epidemic. Anyone else want to get an add blocker for their computer now?

What's next?

Understanding what causes obesity in both children and adults is the first step to preventing and curing the obesity epidemic. If food advertisements are successfully enticing our brains to buy high-calorie, low-nutrition foods, and this is having negative impacts on the health and economics of a society (because healthcare is expensive!) then government bodies can interfere to regulate advertisements, in a similar way as they do with cigarettes. Of course, unhealthy food companies are not going to be happy with such restrictions, but it could promote societal wellbeing. Science influencing policy is a great example of idea to impact!.


Amount Funded: $7,000

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