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Eat Behav. 2008 Aug;9(3):319-27. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2007.10.007. Epub 2007 Nov 12.

Food reinforcement and impulsivity in overweight children and their parents.

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Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14214-3000, USA.


Pediatric obesity involves choices among healthy and less healthy alternatives, as well as choices whose consequences vary over time, such as engaging in unhealthy behaviors now at the expense of future health. The purpose of this study was to examine the relative reinforcing value of food and behavioral impulsivity under different experimental conditions in a sample of 50 families screened for participation in a pediatric obesity treatment program. Relative reinforcing value for food versus money was studied under conditions in which increased response requirements were placed on either access to food or money, and the amount of money, the alternative reinforcer, was varied. Impulsivity for small immediate versus larger delayed monetary rewards was studied under conditions in which the value of the immediate reward and the duration of the delay were varied. Results showed that response requirements affected the choice of food for both parents and children (p<0.001), and there was a significant correlation between the number of food reinforcers chosen by parents and children (r=0.57, p<0.001). The value of the immediate reward differentially influenced choice of the immediate reward for parents and children (p<0.05), with children (p<0.001) but not parents (p=0.36) more impulsive as value of the immediate reward increased. The length of the delay influenced both parent (p=0.004) and child (p<0.01) choice of the immediate reward. Parent and child impulsivity were not correlated (r=0.15, p=0.29). This study suggests that food reinforcement may be more similar between parents and children than behavioral impulsivity, though additional research using other measures of relative reinforcing value and impulsivity is warranted.

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