What factors influence overeating in obese individuals?

What factors influence overeating in overweight or obese individuals? In this study, researchers from the University of Tasmania used mobile based ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to examine what external and internal cues promote food intake. Over a period of two weeks, 51 overweight to obese adults answered 1 to 9 different prompts per day regarding eating cues and momentary food environment. They also recorded every snack and meal they consumed.

Some of the external and internal cues that were monitored included:

  • Negative affect
  • Being alone
  • Availability of food
  • Observing others eat
  • Current food environment (outlet proximity)

They also monitored how different food outlets, such as restaurants, fast food, convenience stores, and supermarkets, affected meal and snack choices.

After the data was compiled, they found that:

  • Negative affect increased snacking
  • Availability of food and observing others eat greatly increased food intake
  • Perception of food sources increased consumption of meals and high energy snacks
  • Proximity of fast food increased consumption of high energy snacks
  • Proximity of supermarkets increased consumption of low energy snacks

This was one of the first studies that implemented EMA to study momentary eating patterns instead of retrospective assessments. These findings suggest that interventions aimed at changing eating behavior should target both personal cues and environmental cues, although more studies are needed to portray a complete picture.

Elliston, K. G., Ferguson, S. G., Schüz, N., & Schüz, B. (2016). Situational Cues and Momentary Food Environment Predict Everyday Eating Behavior in Adults With Overweight and Obesity. Health Psychology, 1-9.


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