Administered in: College of Health and Human Development
While strong empirical evidence shows that exposure to food advertisements increases short-term food intake and contributes to the development of obesity, not all children are susceptible to this effect. Identifying the characteristics that protect some children from overeating in response to food advertising is a public health priority that may highlight novel targets for childhood obesity prevention. We propose to use state-of-the art, data driven techniques to identify neural, cognitive and behavioral phenotypes that are associated with resiliency to food-cue induced overeating and determine whether these phenotypes protect children from weight gain during the critical pre-adolescent period. The driving premise of this proposal is that children who are resistant to food-cue induced overeating will exhibit a distinct cluster of neural, behavioral, and cognitive traits which protect them from weight gain in an obesogenic environment. Our preliminary studies suggest that greater neural activation in prefrontal cortical regions implicated in cognitive control, increased executive functioning, and lower food advertising exposure may be some of the characteristics that confer resiliency to overeating in response to food advertising cues. To confirm our preliminary findings, we plan to enroll 140, 7-9 year-old children with healthy weight who vary by risk for obesity (70 low-risk/both parents with healthy weight; 70 high-risk/both parents with obesity) for a 1-year prospective study. In aim one, we will compare the effect of exposing children to commercials (i.e., food, toy, and non-rewarding advertisements) on subsequent neural activation and network connectivity characteristics in response to viewing high-energy food cues. We hypothesize that exposure to food commercials (vs. toy and non-food) will reduce prefrontal cortex activation, but that there will be substantial variability in this response across children. In aim two, we will determine how food commercials affect children’s subsequent food intake at both homeostatic (i.e., ad libitum test-meals) and non-homeostatic (i.e., eating palatable snacks when not hungry) eating events and relate these responses to underlying neural circuitry. In aim three, we will test the extent to which children’s executive function and prior food advertising experience moderate the relationship between food commercial exposure and subsequent neural and behavioral outcomes. In the final aim, we will use sophisticated data-driven techniques (i.e., machine learning) to identify neural, behavioral, and cognitive traits that moderate the effect of familial risk status on weight-gain. We expect the proposed studies to inform the science of obesity prevention by identifying specific modifiable phenotypes that protect high-risk children from excess weight gain during the pre-adolescent period. The overall impact of these studies will be to identify novel neural and behavioral characteristics of resiliency to food advertising in children. It will be the first to focus specifically on characterizing neural resiliency factors associated with decreased risk of food-cue induced eating and determine the extent to which these factors protect pre-adolescent children from the development of obesity.