By Jenna Wallace
Picture this; you are watching TV late at night and it turns to a commercial break. How many of those commercials are, in some way, related to food? Does this make you crave a nighttime snack? Well, research is beginning to uncover the relationship between stimulation of the reward processing portion of our brain and environmental cues like food commercials, especially in those that are obese.
The portion of our brain responsible for reward processing is called the nucleus accumbens¹. In obese individuals, not only is this portion larger than in their healthy weight counterparts, but it’s more reactive to environmental stimuli¹. This means that kids, who are already obese or are at risk for obesity, are even more likely to be influenced by food commercials while watching TV. It’s a vicious cycle. If an obese child is watching TV rather than playing outside or reading, for example, then they’re coming in contact with food commercials far more often. Now that a definitive link has been drawn between these cues and actual craving/reward reactions in the brain, it’s more imperative than ever to remove as much of these stimuli as possible¹.
Additionally, the trouble with food commercials is that they are, for the most part, advertising cheap, unhealthy, calorie dense foods that can be bought readily or even delivered. This constant stimulus only contributes to the obesity epidemic¹. The best solution is to limit exposure, as it is a physiological reaction that can’t be ‘educated away’.
This also brings up an important issue in food and health policy. To what extent should children’s shows be allowed to run fast food commercials? Is this something that should be monitored in order to align with fighting the obesity epidemic? At the moment, the most important thing is to limit the stimulus, especially for those individuals at risk, which is mostly the obese population.