Uncontrolled eating in adolescents: The role of impulsivity and automatic approach bias for food
Abstract Obesity is a global problem reaching epidemic proportions and can be explained by unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyles. Understanding the psychological processes underlying unhealthy eating behaviour is crucial for the development of effective obesity prevention programmes. Dual-process models implicate the interplay between impaired cognitive control and enhanced automatic responsivity to rewarding food cues as key risk factors. The current study assessed the influence of four different components of trait impulsivity (reflecting impaired cognitive control) and automatic approach bias for food (reflecting automatic responsivity to food) on uncontrolled eating in a large sample ( N = 504) of young adolescents. Of the four impulsivity factors, negative urgency was found to be the strongest predictor of uncontrolled eating. Interestingly, we found that lack of premeditation was a key risk factor for uncontrolled eating, but only when approach bias for food was high, supporting a dual-process model. Lack of perseverance showed a similar interactive pattern to a lesser degree and sensation-seeking did not predict uncontrolled eating. Together, our results show that distinct components of trait impulsivity are differentially associated with uncontrolled eating behaviour in adolescents, and that automatic processing of food cues may be an important factor in modulating this relationship.
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