We all know that junk food isn't good for our health but damn, they are so hard to resist! Turns out junk food isn't just unhealthy for our body, but it also affects the adolescent brains.
The teenage years are the key window of brain development. The brain region that stops us from eating burgers and fries and pizzas is the last to mature. Called the prefrontal cortex, this region is responsible for decision making and self-control, and it doesn't develop until our mid 20s! Now you know why you couldn't keep yourself from hogging all the calorie-rich food.
In contrast to the immature prefrontal cortex, teen brains get more buzz from rewards. By teenage, the parts of the brain that make us happy when we do something delightful and pleasant, get fully developed. And these regions are even more sensitive. The adolescent brain is naturally hardwired to pick the tastiest, fattiest and sweetest food as it gets the rewarding dopamine kick or the ‘good feel chemical’ kick.
If a behaviour is rewarding, dopamine makes us want to carry out the same thing over and over again. And since decision making and self-control is at bare minimum at this age, such frequent stimulation of the rewarding system can lead to heightened impulsivity as they enter adulthood.
According to research, overconsumption of high-calorific food can cause changes in the function and structure of the prefrontal cortex. It causes an imbalance of brain chemicals and leads to impaired cognitive control. It also affects the teen’s attention span in school, learning and remembering new information, and being able to regulate their mood.
An excellent way to fend off damage from junk food is to exercise, says research. Exercise can boost strong connections between the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions. This enables the prefrontal cortex to exert better control by weighing risks, making decisions and curbing impulses.