Reinforcing value of food in lean and overweight youth
Legierski, Christina M.
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Childhood obesity is a growing public health problem, which has increased dramatically over the past 3 decades. Developing a better understanding of factors that influence child eating may provide ideas for prevention or treatment of childhood obesity. The primary purpose of this study was to assess whether obese youth find food more reinforcing than lean youth. The reinforcing value of food is a behavioral measure of motivation to obtain food, operationally defined in terms of how hard one is willing to work towards food. Twenty overweight (>90 th BMI percentile) and 25 non-overweight (<75 th BMI>percentile) 8-12 year-old youth were studied. After receiving a preload which was designed to reduce hunger and food deprivation, participants were provided the opportunity to perform a laboratory task to gain access to 80g (188 Kcal) portions of cheese pizza. Results showed that overweight children responded more times for food and had greater energy intake than their leaner peers. In addition, regression analysis showed that the reinforcing value of food was not related to food liking. These results suggest that food reinforcement may be an important factor that increases energy intake in obese youth, and provides additional support for examining individual differences in food reinforcement as an important factor in the development of obesity.