Kids With a Genetic Risk of Obesity Are More Likely to Overeat When Viewing Fast Food Ads

New research links a certain gene to the likelihood that kids will eat more when they see commercials for fast food.
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It's no secret that the childhood obesity crisis is not going away. Now, on the heels of a new list of fast food restaurants being ranked by the unhealthiest meals for kids, a Dartmouth study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at how children with a genetic risk for obesity show more activity in brain reward centers while they are watching fast food commercials. This research offers more insight into why some kids with a certain obesity gene are more likely to overeat based on cues like television ads.

For the study, 78 kids, ages 9 to 12, were asked to watch TV shows in an MRI scanner. The content included commercials, half of which were for fast food and half that were not, to simulate a real-world viewing experience. Researchers also evaluated kids for their risk for a fat-mass and obesity-associated genes. The region of the brain associated with reward cravings was actually bigger in kids with the FTO gene and it also exhibited a stronger craving response to the fast food ads.

"We know from our prior work that children with this same genetic obesity risk factor are more likely to overeat after watching food advertisements on TV, even when they are not hungry," explains senior author Diane Gilbert-Diamond, assistant professor of epidemiology at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine. "The brain scans suggest that these children may be especially vulnerable to food cues, and that limiting food advertisement exposure could be an effective way to combat child obesity."

What should parents do? Gilbert-Diamond told Parents.com: “I think that a real takeaway from this study is that some children have a stronger reward response to food cues than others. So, for some children, limiting exposure to food cues, like food ads, may be especially important for reducing cravings and overeating.”

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Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

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