A study published in the journal NeuroImage is lending weight to the argument that food advertisers may be helping to drive the U.S. obesity epidemic. When studying brain scans of normal, hungry people exposed to appetizing food stimuli, such as product ads, researchers observed reactions similar to those of cocaine addicts responding to drug stimuli.

“The marked increase in brain metabolism [triggered] by the presentation of food provides evidence of the high sensitivity of the human brain to food stimuli,” the researchers wrote in the journal’s April 2004 issue. “This high sensitivity, coupled with the ubiquitousness of food stimuli in the environment, is likely to contribute to the epidemic of obesity. In particular, the activation of the . . . brain region involved with drive may underlie the motivation to procure food, which may be subjectively experienced as ‘desire for food’ and ‘hunger’ when exposed to food stimuli.”