Open Access
Masterson, Travis D
Graduate Program:
Nutritional Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 15, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Kathleen Loralee Keller, Dissertation Advisor
  • Barbara Jean Rolls, Committee Chair
  • Jennifer Savage Williams, Committee Member
  • Lisa Elizabeth Bolton, Committee Member
  • Amanda S. Bruce, Outside Member
  • Food Marketing
  • Food Intake
  • Children
  • Brain Response
  • fMRI
  • Branding
  • Food Commercials
  • Pediatrics
Childhood obesity has become an increasing concern in the United States. Currently, 33% of children are overweight, and over 17% are obese. A significant contributor to this childhood obesity epidemic is the current obesogenic food environment of the United States. This environment promotes the increased intake of high-energy dense foods through the promotion of large portion sizes of food products, access and availability of energy dense foods, and influential media messages such as food marketing. Studies have shown exposure to food marketing, such as food brands and food commercials, can increase food intake in children. Furthermore, several studies have shown that food brands and food commercials impact critical regions of the brain related to control, rewards, and appetite. However, it is unclear if these brain responses correlate with eating behaviors. Therefore, the primary aim of this dissertation is to evaluate whether brain response to food branding and food commercials relate to actual food intake in a laboratory setting. Study 1 of this thesis was designed to assess the effects of food branding on the brain and food intake. We found that food-brand associated activity in inferior frontal gyrus, a region associated with cognitive control, was positively associated with children’s consumption from branded test-meals. Study 2 was designed to assess whether priming with food commercial would affect food intake during a multi-item meal. Furthermore, we evaluated the effects of food commercials on brain response to images of food. We found that food commercials impact regions of the brain related to reward, control, emotion, and attention, and variations in these responses could explain why some children are more vulnerable to advertising content than others. It also provided preliminary evidence that brain response to food commercial priming was related to children’s laboratory food consumption. The results of these two studies suggest that food marketing techniques impact brain regions implicated in the processing of food cues and eating behavior. Furthermore, brain responses to these marketing techniques correlate to actual food intake. Therefore, reducing exposure of children to food marketing techniques, whether through public policy or parental intervention, may be essential to improve children’s food behavior particularly in relation to high-energy dense foods.