Being impulsive and obese increases susceptibility to speeded detection of high-calorie foods

Peggy Bongers, Elsmarieke van de Giessen, Anne Roefs, Chantal Nederkoorn, Jan Booij, Wim van den Brink, Anita Jansen

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Overeating and obesity are associated with impulsivity. In studies among patients with a substance use disorder, impulsivity was found to be associated with substance-related attentional bias. This study examined whether obesity, impulsivity and food craving are associated with an attentional bias for high-calorie food. Obese (n = 185, mean BMI = 38.18 ± 6.17) and matched healthy-weight (n = 134, mean BMI = 22.35 ± 1.63) men (27.9%) and women (72.1%), aged 18-45 years, took part in the study. Participants were tested on several self-report and behavioral measures of impulsivity (i.e., response inhibition and reward sensitivity) and self-reported trait craving. In addition, they performed a visual search task to measure attentional bias for high- and low-caloric foods. Self-reported impulsivity influenced the relationship between weight status and detection speed of high- and low-caloric food items: High-impulsive participants with obesity were significantly faster than high-impulsive healthy-weight participants in detecting a high-caloric food item among neutral items, whereas no such difference was observed among low-impulsive participants. No significant effects were found on low-caloric food items, for trait craving or any of the behavioral measures of impulsivity. Self-reported impulsivity, but not trait craving or behavioral measures of impulsivity, is associated with an attentional bias for high-caloric foods, but only in people with obesity. It is in particular the speedy detection of high-caloric foods in the environment that characterizes the impulsive person with obesity, which in turn may cause risky eating patterns in a society were high-caloric food is overly present
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-685
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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