Who doesn’t love to scroll through the countless images of beauty, hair, makeup, fashion and fitness that make up social networking sites like Pinterest? NewBeauty Magazine’s Pinterest boards are loaded with inspirational pictures of everything from hair color and styles to luxurious spas. And while you look through these lovely pictures, you might come across some delicious looking photos of sweet treats (on other accounts of course).
The problem is, these seemingly harmless photos apparently cause a trigger in your brain that makes you crave those treats and increases your appetite, a new study shows. Researchers found that with just a glance at a photo of a rich and gooey chocolate cake, regions of the brain known to be involved in appetite control light up.
Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 13 women while they looked at images of sweet treats such as cupcakes, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. “What we saw was that regions in the brain that are involved in reward and hunger lit up,” Page said.
These women were also asked to rate their appetite at the beginning and end of the experiment. They reported greater hunger and desire for food after they looked at the photos.
In a second experiment, the researchers asked the women to each consume a sugary drink of about 200 calories. Then, the researchers repeated the scans as before while the women stared at photos of sugary foods.
“Surprisingly, the consumption of the sugar drink–which was essentially equivalent to a 16-ounce soda–actually increased the ratings of hunger and desire,” Page said. “We didn’t predict a hunger increase in the sugar drink. Apparently the brain saw it as an appetizer.”
This study also parallels earlier research in cocaine addicts. When addicts were shown anti-drug commercials that included crossed-out needles, the brain regions associated with pleasure fired up and the addicts reported increased cravings. Simply the image of a needle, even though crossed out, triggered these brain regions.
“We see parallels between substances of abuse, like cocaine, and highly palatable foods,” said Page. “Some of the same brain regions light up.”
It’s not clear how people can protect themselves from photos of delicious treats. However, it is possible that there could be some sort of public health response, Page said. “You’re probably aware that Disney has said that in 2015 it will stop showing food and beverage ads on their children’s TV shows,” she said. “There have been behavioral studies showing that the more children see these ads, the more they eat.”
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