Abstract: Food cues are omnipresent and may enhance overconsumption. In the last two decades the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased dramatically all over the world, largely due to overconsumption. Understanding children’s neural responses to food may help to develop better interventions for preventing or reducing overconsumption. We aimed to determine which brain regions are concurrently activated in children/adolescents in response to viewing food pictures, and how these relate to adult findings.
Two activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses were performed: one with studies in normal weight children/adolescents (aged 8–18, 8 studies, 137 foci) and one with studies in normal weight adults (aged 18–45, 16 studies, 178 foci). A contrast analysis was performed for children/adolescents vs. adults.
In children/adolescents, the most concurrent clusters were in the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the bilateral fusiform gyrus, and the right superior parietal lobule. In adults, clusters in similar areas were found. Although the number of studies for a direct statistical comparison between the groups was relatively low, there were indications that children/adolescents may not activate areas important for cognitive control. Overall, the number of studies that contributed to the significant clusters was moderate (6–75%).
In summary, the brain areas most consistently activated in children/adolescents by food viewing are part of the appetitive brain network and overlap with those found in adults. However, the age range of the children studied was rather broad. This study offers important recommendations for future research; studies making a direct comparison between adults and children in a sufficiently narrow age range would further elucidate how neural responses to food cues change during development.
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