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Are Your Kids Addicted to Junk Food? Perhaps They've Been Brainwashed

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that multi-million dollar corporate marketing campaigns are intended to influence our purchasing decisions and keep us coming back for more. And no one is more vulnerable to the power of suggestion than children. Now, new research suggests corporate branding has a very real impact on the brains of children repeatedly exposed to corporate logos, especially those of fast food and junk food brands.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center, found the pleasure centers in the brains of children "lit up" when the subjects were shown images of their favorite fast-food or processed food brand logos. The researchers showed children between ages 10 and 14 a series of logos, both fast food and non-food brands. The area of the brain that's connected to appetite drive became highly active when the fast food logos were introduced, but remained inactive when showed other non-food logos.

While it's not alarming that the area of the brain that is stimulated along with appetite would react to images connected with food, experts are concerned with the responses and reactions children will have in making choices for themselves to satisfy their hunger after being repeatedly exposed to corporate logos and ads. The children more familiar with the unhealthy food brand logos and ads were more likely to also display a preference for unhealthy foods and more prone to poor eating habits.

The fast-processed-junk food industry has come under scrutiny in the past several years, particularly for marketing unhealthy food to children, which experts suggest may be contributing to the rising obesity rates currently affecting more than 1 out of 5 children between ages 2 and 19.

In 2010, San Francisco, CA became the first major city to ban McDonald's and other restaurant chains from selling high fat, high salt meals lacking in important nutritional value that came with toys or games targeted at children. Typical "Happy Meals" contain more than 600 calories, 640 milligrams of sodium, and more than 35 percent of calories are derived from saturated fats. Meals that include fresh fruits or vegetables are allowed to include prizes.

Most recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on large-sized sodas passed the city's Board of Health in an effort to help combat the city's rising obesity rates. Establishments including restaurants, movie theaters, and venues where fountain soft drinks are sold, will no longer be allowed to sell any sodas larger than a 16-ounce cup size.

And while efforts by First Lady Michelle Obama, along with agencies like the USDA, to improve school lunches and nutritional awareness have been somewhat successful over the last several years, children are still routinely exposed to the influence of fast food chains and brands that contain unhealthy ingredients.

Fortunately, research also indicates that children who are more involved in their food—both learning how to grow and prepare it—are also more likely to enjoy eating healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables.

And while the study looked only at children's brains, it's not difficult to recognize the affect these corporations have on our adult brains, too. Many of us have grown up exposed to corporate influence, developing hard to break habits and addictions to foods connected with the nation's rising obesity rates. And just like our children, routine exposure to the food we eat—from growing our own to taking part in preparation—can help us change our eating habits for the better as well.

Learn more about Jill Ettinger

Image sources: Wynand Delport and Ede Bittle

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