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Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;90(2):276-81. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27479. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

The relative reinforcing value of food predicts weight gain in a longitudinal study of 7--10-y-old children.

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom, and the Institute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.



The relative reinforcing value (RRV) of food, defined as how hard an individual is prepared to work to gain access to food rather than a nonfood alternative, has been shown to be higher in obese adults and children than in their normal-weight counterparts. However, these cross-sectional studies are unable to determine whether a high RRV of food is predictive of adiposity change or whether it is a consequence of being obese.


The objective was to examine the association between the RRV of food and 1-y weight gain in children aged 7-10 y.


An observational longitudinal study design was used. The RRV of food was determined by using a questionnaire method at baseline when the children (n = 316) were aged 7-9 y. Adiposity [body mass index (BMI), BMI SD score, fat mass index, waist circumference, and waist circumference SD score] was assessed at baseline and after 1 y.


Regression analyses indicated that the RRV of food was not associated with any measure of adiposity at baseline or at the 1-y follow-up (all P > 0.58). Changes in BMI (B = 0.06, P < 0.001), BMI SD score (B = 0.03, P = 0.001), and fat mass index (B = 0.09, P = 0.001) after 1 y were significantly predicted by the RRV of food at baseline.


The RRV of food predicted the change in adiposity over a relatively short-term period of 1 y and thus may be associated with the development of obesity. The lack of association in cross-sectional analyses indicates that this behavior is a risk factor for weight gain, although weight differences may not emerge until later childhood.

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