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Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1121-7.

Overweight children find food more reinforcing and consume more energy than do nonoverweight children.

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University at Buffalo, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Behavioral Medicine, Buffalo, NY 14214-3000, USA.



The reinforcing value of food is a reliable index of motivation to eat and energy intake. Obese adults find food more reinforcing than do nonobese adults.


The present study was designed to assess whether the relative reinforcing value of food differs as a function of weight status in 8-12-y-old children and whether the relative reinforcing value of food differs depending on the types of available nonfood alternatives.


The reinforcing value of pizza (experiment 1) or snack foods (experiment 2) was measured on progressive ratio schedules of reinforcement in nonoverweight and overweight children. Experiment 2 also compared the relative reinforcing value of food and 2 nonfood alternatives: time to spend playing a hand-held video game or time to spend reading magazines or completing word searches or mazes.


In both experiments, overweight children found food more reinforcing and consumed more energy than did their leaner peers. In experiment 2, the relative reinforcing value of food versus sedentary activity was higher in overweight children, but lower in nonoverweight children, regardless of the type of alternative activity available.


These results show that overweight children find food more reinforcing than do nonoverweight children. This individual difference was replicated in different experiments using different types of foods and food alternatives. These studies provide support for studying food reinforcement as a factor associated with overweight and obesity.

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