Children and those struggling against obesity are up against both their brain's reward system and companies who know how to exploit it.
According to Food Fight, a mini-documentary produced by the New York Times, food companies gain their success by taking advantage of deeply-routed human behaviors says.
Through interviews with food policy experts, nutritionists, and educators, the documentary looks at how the human brain rewards the consumption of sugary and salty foods, how food companies use this response in their advertising, and how one Philadelphia school is trying to fight childhood obesity.
A Taste For Sweets Since Birth?
Studies have shown that as early as two hours after birth, infants can distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes.
A study published by the Society for Research in Child Development analyzed the facial expressions of babies sampling these tastes. Screwed up eyes, mouth gaping, and other negative facial expressions met all the flavors except for sweet, where the baby's face calmed and its lips puckered as if it were suckling.
It Tastes As Good As It Feels
Children's love of sweetness does not end when they stop drinking sweet-tasting mother's milk, and this can pave the way to cycles of eating sweets.
Studies on addictions show that the more times someone consumes sweet and salty foods, the more the brain rewards this action with pleasurable feelings. This rewards system becomes more compulsive and automatic over time, so if someone is accustomed to eating sweet and salty foods to experience those good reward feelings, it can be very difficult to change their diet.
Commercials For Kids
"Each year," reports the documentary, "food companies spend billions of dollars developing and marketing an increasing variety of foods engineered to take advantage of this key biological vulnerability: our predisposition to see fats and sweets and salt beyond our nutritional needs."
Food companies may not necessarily be trying to increase the obesity epidemic, but their goal is to sell as much of their product as possible.
As seen in the selection of commercials shown in Food Fight, food companies don't preach moderation about unhealthy foods but instead focus on the euphoria of good feelings increased consumption will bring. A stadium made out of meats and cheeses, cartoon characters spinning in circles, and even Fred Flintstone smiling as his brain is replaced by Fruity Pebbles tell children: if you eat this food, it will make you happy.
Without proper guidance and nutritional education, children are prone to fall for this message.