Associations between behavioral self-regulation and external food cue responsiveness (EFCR) in preschool-age children and evidence of modification by parenting style

Dabin Yeum, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Travis D. Masterson, Delaina D. Carlson, Grace A. Ballarino, Reina K. Lansigan, Timothy J. Renier, Jennifer A. Emond

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Decreased behavioral regulation is hypothesized to be a risk factor for excess weight gain among children, possibly via reduced appetite-specific regulation. Little research has specifically focused on behavioral regulation and food cue responsiveness, a conditioned precursor to eating, at a young age. This study examined the association between behavioral regulation and external food cue responsiveness among preschool-age children and explored if a more structured parenting style moderated that association. Baseline data from a prospective study on media use among preschool-age children (n = 83) in Northern New England were used. Parents reported on three domains of children's behavioral regulation (attentional focusing, inhibitory control, and emotional self-regulation), the children's external food cue responsiveness (EFCR), and their parenting styles (authoritative and permissive) via validated questionnaires. Mean age among children was 4.31 (SD 0.91) years, 57% of children were male, 89% were non-Hispanic white, and 26.2% had overweight or obesity. In a series of adjusted linear regression models, lower attentional focusing (standardized β, βs = −0.35, p = 0.001), inhibitory control (βs = −0.30, p = 0.008), and emotional self-regulation (standardized beta, βs = −0.38, p < 0.001) were each significantly associated with greater EFCR. In exploratory analyses, a more structured parenting style (more authoritative or less permissive) mitigated the associations between inhibitory control and EFCR (Bonferroni-adjusted p-interaction < 0.017). Findings support that lower attentional focusing, inhibitory control, and emotional self-regulation relate to greater ECFR in preschool-age children. The association between inhibitory control and EFCR may be modified by parenting style. Further research is needed to understand if children's responsiveness to external food cues may account for reported associations between lower behavioral regulation and adiposity gain over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106637
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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