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Objective

Although soft drinks are heavily advertised, widely consumed, and have been associated with obesity, little is understood regarding neural responsivity to soft drink intake, anticipated intake, and advertisements.

Design and Methods

Functional MRI was used to assess examine neural response to carbonated soft drink intake, anticipated intake and advertisement exposure as well as milkshake intake in 27 adolescents that varied on soft drink consumer status.

Results

Intake and anticipated intake of carbonated Coke® activated regions implicated in gustatory, oral somatosensory, and reward processing, yet high-fat/sugar milkshake intake elicited greater activation in these regions vs. Coke intake. Advertisements highlighting the Coke product vs. nonfood control advertisements, but not the Coke logo, activated gustatory and visual brain regions. Habitual Coke consumers vs. nonconsumers showed greater posterior cingulate responsivity to Coke logo ads, suggesting that the logo is a conditioned cue. Coke consumers exhibited less ventrolateral prefrontal cortex responsivity during anticipated Coke intake relative to nonconsumers.

Conclusions

Results indicate that soft drinks activate reward and gustatory regions, but are less potent in activating these regions than high-fat/sugar beverages, and imply that habitual soft drink intake promotes hyper-responsivity of regions encoding salience/attention toward brand specific cues and hypo-responsivity of inhibitory regions while anticipating intake.