Childhood obesity is a rising problem caused in part by unhealthy food choices. Food choices are based on a neural value signal encoded in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and self-control involves modulation of this signal by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). We determined the effects of development, body mass (BMI Cole score) and body mass history on the neural correlates of healthy food choice in children. 141 children (aged 10-17y) from Germany, Hungary and Sweden were scanned with fMRI while performing a food choice task. Afterwards health and taste ratings of the foods were collected. In the food choice task children were asked to consider the healthiness or tastiness of the food or to choose naturally. Overall, children made healthier choices when asked to consider healthiness. However, children who had a higher weight gain per year chose less healthy foods when considering healthiness but not when choosing naturally. Pubertal development stage correlated positively while current body mass correlated negatively with dlPFC activation when accepting foods. Pubertal development negatively and current body mass positively influenced the effect of considering healthiness on activation of brain areas involved in salience and motivation. In conclusion, children in earlier stages of pubertal development and children with a higher body weight exhibited less activation in the dlPFC, which has been implicated in self-control during food choice. Furthermore, pubertal development and body mass influenced neural responses to a health cue in areas involved in salience and motivation. Thus, these findings suggest that children in earlier stages of pubertal development, children with a higher body mass gain and children with overweight may possibly be less susceptible to healthy eating interventions that rely on self-control or that highlight health aspects of food.
- Decision making
- Food choice