Training kids to pay less attention to food might help them eat less
In a new study researchers have reported using a single session of attention modification to decrease overeating in obese children.
Among the multiple factors that can cause obesity is an abnormal neurocognitive or behavioral response to food cues. The brain becomes wired to seek - and expect - greater rewards from food, which leads to unhealthful overeating.
"Attentional bias to food means that food grabs a person's attention. If two people were in a room with potato chips on the table, the person with attentional bias would be paying attention to, maybe looking at, the chips and the person without the bias would not really notice or pay attention to them," Kerri Boutelle, PhD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said.
"We believe that there is a group of people who are inherently sensitive to food cues and, over time, eating in response to paying attention to food makes them pay even more attention. It's based on Pavlovian conditioning," the researcher added.
Boutelle and colleagues investigated whether attention modification training might be another way to treat problematic eating and obesity in children.
In a novel pilot study, they recruited 24 overweight and obese children between the ages of 8 and 12 and split them into two groups.
One group underwent an attention modification program (AMP) in which they watched pairs of words quickly flash upon a computer screen. One was a food word, such as "cake;" the other was a non-food word, such as "desk."
After the words had flashed and disappeared, a letter appeared on-screen in the place of either the food word or the non-food word. The viewing child was asked to immediately press the right or left button associated with the letter's location.
Boutelle said this is called 'implicit training' as it happens so fast that some people might not realize what is happening.
The AMP trained attention away from food words because the letter always appeared in the spot of the non-food word while in the other group, the condition trained attention was split with the letter appearing half of the time in the food word location and half in the non-food word location, the researcher said.
The study was published in the journal Appetite.
(Posted on 16-02-2014)