Floor Van Meer Results Paper Published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Do children’s brains respond differently to photos of healthy and unhealthy foods compared to the brain responses of their parents?


Floor van Meer of the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, a researcher with the I.Family study, investigated this interesting question using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and secured the publication of its results in a paper published in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).


This study involved 27 children aged 10-12, and 32 adults aged 32-52 who were the children’s parents. fMRI was used to the measure brain responses of the subjects while they watched pictures of both healthy food and unhealthy food. Researchers then examined how the brain responses to these foods differed between children and adults and whether they were related to their weight.

Children had a greater response to unhealthy foods compared to adults in an area important for motor responses. The children with higher weight (relative to their height, gender and age) showed less activation towards unhealthy food in a brain area involved in inhibition. In adults there was no effect of weight.

Lead author Floor van Meer said: “We found evidence that children have stronger activation than adults in brain sites implicated in motivation in response to unhealthy foods.” added Floor. “Furthermore, children who are overweight may have less control over their motivational responses toward foods.”

Floor van Meer continued: “Our study is the first to our knowledge to examine developmental differences in unhealthy and healthy food cue reactivity in preadolescent children with the use of their parents as the adult group.”


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