Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Yokum: We found that adolescents showing elevated responses in reward regions to food commercials gained more weight over 1-year follow-up compared to those with less activation in these brain regions. This suggests that there are individual differences in neural vulnerability to food commercials that appear to identify youth at risk for excess weight gain.
Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?
Dr. Yokum: It was not completely unexpected as previous studies found that individual differences in reward response to stationary food images correlate positively with future weight gain. However, the food images used in these studies are without branding/context. Our study is the first to investigate neural response to real-world stimuli (i.e. food commercials shown in the context of a television show). Our findings extend the findings of these prior studies.
Medical Research What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Yokum:: Our findings suggest that interventions that focus on educating adolescents about nutrition or media may have limited success because they do not address the activation of reward-related neural circuitry by food marketing. Novel interventions that focus on decreasing reward-related responses to food advertising may be needed. For example, reward-related neural response to food cues may be diminished through cognitive interventions that train individuals to focus on long-term consequences of eating the advertised food.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Yokum: It will be important to replicate this study with larger samples. Further, identification of biological, psychological, and environmental factors that increase or decrease the susceptibility to food advertising will be essential in the development of successful prevention and treatment interventions to reduce the impact of food marketing on adolescents, as well as identifying those teens most in need of these initiatives.