A study jointly conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center shows the appetite and pleasure centers of kids’ brain visibly ‘light up’ whenever the possibility of eating out in a fast-food chain comes up. The research work, which will be published in Oxford’s Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) journal, further shows that even seeing only the logos of fast-food chains affects the children’s brain in a similar manner.
It appears that branding and advertising have powerful impact on people, as logos of familiar brands are slowly ingrained in the brain over time. However, reaction to each logo varies substantially among people, usually depending on sex, age and other factors. Based on the MRI scans of kids aged 10-14 years old in this study, the researchers noted that logos of non-food items did not generate the response in the brain that were seen when kids encounter, say, a logo of McDonald’s or Burger King.
Dr. Amanda Bruce of the B.R.A.I.N. (Behavioral Rewards And Incentives Network) lab that conducted the MRI scans noted that “children are more likely to choose those foods with familiar logos.“ This fact is known to and is exploited marketers who, the study author notes, often “tap into the reward areas of the brain“ to hook children into their brands “before youngsters learn self-control.” This practice is not quite right. “That is concerning because the majority of foods marketed to children are unhealthy, ” explains Dr. Bruce.
It is for the same reason that researchers in another study, this time in New York, are pushing for an environment where sugar- sweetened beverages are made less ubiquitous and visible to children. Healthier beverage options should be made available and marketed heavily, to make kids drink more of these, and ultimately, reduce obesity and other health problems.