Brain response to food brands correlates with increased intake from branded meals in children: an fMRI study

  • Travis D. Masterson
  • Wendy M. Stein
  • Emma Beidler
  • Maria Bermudez
  • Laural K. English
  • Kathleen L. Keller
Original Research


Food branding is ubiquitous, however, not all children are equally susceptible to its effects. The objectives of this study were to 1) determine whether food brands evoke differential response than non-food brands in brain areas related to motivation and inhibitory control using blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and 2) determine the association between brain response and energy intake at test-meals presented with or without brands. Twenty-eight 7–10 year-old children completed four visits as part of a within-subjects design where they consumed three multi-item test-meals presented with familiar food brands, novel food brand, and no brand. On the fourth visit an fMRI was performed where children passively viewed food brands, non-food brands and control images. A whole-brain analysis was conducted to compare BOLD response between conditions. Pearson’s correlations were calculated to determine the association between brain response and meal intake. Relative to non-food brands, food brand images were associated with increased activity in the right lingual gyrus. Relative to control, food and non-food brand images were associated with greater response in bilateral fusiform gyri and decreased response in the cuneus, precuneus, lingual gyrus, and supramarginal gyrus. Less activation in the bilateral fusiform gyrus to both food and non-food brands was associated with greater energy intake of the branded vs unbranded meal. These findings may help explain differences in the susceptibility to the intake-promoting effects of food advertising in children.


Branding Food intake Brain response fMRI Children 



We would like to thank the parents and children who participated in this project. We would like to acknowledge the support of the USDA/NIFA Childhood Obesity Prevention Training Grant #2011-67001-30117 for study funding and doctoral fellowship program support. We would also like to thank the Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center at Penn State for imaging support.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Travis D. Masterson
    • 1
  • Wendy M. Stein
    • 1
  • Emma Beidler
    • 1
  • Maria Bermudez
    • 1
  • Laural K. English
    • 1
  • Kathleen L. Keller
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Nutritional SciencesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Food ScienceThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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