Food commercials do not affect energy intake in a laboratory meal but do alter brain responses to visual food cues in children

Travis D. Masterson, Maria A. Bermudez, Marielle Austen, Ella Lundquist, Alaina L. Pearce, Amanda S. Bruce, Kathleen L. Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Food commercials promote snack intake and alter food decision-making, yet the influence of exposure to food commercials on subsequent neural processing of food cues and intake at a meal is unclear. This study tested whether exposing children to food or toy commercials altered subsequent brain response to high- and low-energy dense food cues and influenced laboratory intake at a multi-item, ad libitum meal. Forty-one 7-9-year-old children (25 healthy weight; 16 with overweight/obesity) completed five visits as part of a within-subjects design where they consumed multi-item test-meals under three conditions: no exposure, food commercial exposure, and toy commercial exposure. On the fourth and fifth visits, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed while children viewed low- and high-energy dense food images following exposure to either food or toy commercials. Linear mixed models tested for differences in meal energy intake by commercial condition. A whole-brain analysis was conducted to compare differences in response by commercial condition and child weight status. Meal intake did not differ by commercial condition (p = 0.40). Relative to toy commercials, food commercials reduced brain response to high-energy food stimuli in cognitive control regions, including bilateral superior temporal gyri, middle temporal gyrus, and inferior frontal gyrus. Commercial condition * weight status interactions were observed in orbitofrontal cortex, fusiform gyrus, and supramarginal gyrus. Children with overweight/obesity showed increased response in these regions to high-energy stimuli following food commercials. Food commercial exposure affected children's subsequent processing of food cues by reducing engagement of the prefrontal cortex, a region implicated in cognitive control. Even though food commercial exposure did not increase intake at a meal, the effect of reduced prefrontal cortical engagement on a broader range of consumption patterns warrants investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-165
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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