Washington: A new study has revealed children show stronger food craving than adolescents and adults, but they are also able to use a cognitive strategy that reduces craving.
According to psychological scientist and lead researcher Jennifer A. Silvers, these findings are important because they suggest that we may have another tool in our toolbox to combat childhood obesity.
To find out how food craving and regulating food craving change with age, Silvers and colleagues had 105 healthy individuals come to the lab to participate in a neuroimaging session. The participants, who ranged in age from 6 to 23 years, were shown pictures of a variety of unhealthy but appetizing salty and sweet foods while undergoing fMRI scans.
For some of the pictures, participants were told to imagine the food was in front of them and to focus on how the food tastes and smells. For the other pictures, they were told to imagine that the food was farther away and to focus on the visual aspects of the food, such as its shape and color and the participants rated how much they wanted to eat the food they had seen after viewing each picture.
Having the participants imagine the taste and smell of the food allowed the researchers to assess the participants' typical responses to appealing foods. Having them imagine the visual aspects of the food, a cognitive strategy that redirects attention, allowed the researchers to assess how participants regulated their responses to the food.
The results revealed that participants of all ages reported less craving when they used the cognitive strategy of imagining the visual aspects of the food, amounting to a 16% reduction in craving and even when using the strategy, however, children's food cravings were still stronger than those of adolescents and adults, suggesting that foods are generally more desirable to children.
The study was published in Psychological Science.