Do you remember being so excited to eat fast food as a kid? Do you remember your passion and delight when passing McDonald’s golden arches? The multi-billion dollar food marketing industry could be why.

A new study has found that food commercials influence children's eating choices and brain activity. Dr. Amanda Bruce and a team of researchers looked at the brain activity of children while watching both food and non-food commercials. The scientists also asked 23 kids, all between 8 and 14 years old, to rate 60 food items based on how healthy or tasty they were. Overall, the study found that children's food choices were driven by tastiness rather than healthfulness, and that children made decisions about foods faster after watching ads.

"For brain analyses, our primary focus was on the brain region most active during reward valuation, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex,” Dr. Bruce said.

After watching food commercials, researchers found that children’s ventromedial prefrontal cortices were significantly more active. This part of the brain controls the processing of risk and fear, and it also plays a role in decision making and the inhibition of emotional responses. Watching these advertising videos also resulted in faster decision times in children — like how quickly they decided whether they wanted to eat the food item shown.

"Food marketing may systematically alter the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of children's food decisions,” Dr. Bruce said.

Food marketing has been cited as a significant factor in food choices, overeating, and obesity in children and adolescents. Children view more than 40,000 advertisements on television each year, and exposure continues to grow as the internet and cell phones open up more opportunities for junk food companies to sell their products. It was reported last month that 80 percent of ads watched promote high-sugar and salty foods and drinks that teach children to make unhealthy dietary decisions.

The results of Bruce’s new study show that watching food commercials may change the way children value taste, increasing the potential for children to make faster, more impulsive food choices.

Source: Bruce A. et al. Study of brain activity shows that food commercials influence children’s food choices. The Journal of Pediatrics , 2016.

Read More:

Childhood Obesity Grows As 80% Of TV Commercials And Packaging Focus On Unhealthy Foods: Study