UMKC study: link between advertising and childhood obesity - KCTV5 News

UMKC study finds direct link between advertising and childhood obesity

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A new University of Missouri–Kansas City study said that, for some kids, just seeing a logo like the golden arches or Little Debbie, can trigger the urge to snack.

While that urge happens to everyone, the study shows that children are especially vulnerable to the advertising.

Dr. Amanda Bruce with UMKC spent the past five years trying to figure out how our brain waves influence our weight.

"This front part of the brain here is the pre-frontal cortex," she said.

Bruce and her team selected logos from 60 of the most popular food and beverages, like Pepsi, Cap'n Crunch and Cheerios. They also picked 60 non-food logos, like the CBS eye, United Way and Mercedes.

The team showed the logos to a group of children ages 10 through 14. The kids reacted more to the food, but something else stood out from the study.

"The most interesting finding is that healthy-weight kids are showing greater activation in regions of the brain associated with self-control and inhibition and stopping behavior than the obese kids," Bruce said.

What that essentially means is that fitter children have more self-control. Bruce said those children are better able to shield themselves from the more than $10 billion in advertising by food and drink companies.

"I think it raises the question, and it's a difficult question, of how ethical is it to advertise unhealthy food products to children, especially when we see that obese children are potentially more vulnerable to this type of advertising," Bruce said.

Bruce said children have always been easily influenced, even in ways that might not be expected.

"In the 1950s and ‘60s, the favorite vegetable of children in the United States was spinach. That was because of Popeye. Even then we see marketing having a huge influence," she said.

Bruce admits she still has a lot more research to do, but said the findings could eventually help change the way obese children think and act. But, in the meantime, she said it all comes down to parenting.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with french fries and nuggets per say, but it comes in moderation. If kids are always getting what they want and getting unhealthy things, that could lead to changes in the brain," she said.

The study is published in the latest issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

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