Food attentional biases and adiposity: Are energy intake and external eating mediators of this relationship?

Elizabeth Vrany, Purdue University


Obesity is a substantial threat to the health of over a third of adults in the United States. Some evidence suggests that food attentional bias, or the tendency to automatically direct attention toward food-related stimuli in the environment, may contribute to the development of obesity in susceptible individuals. This study hypothesized that (1) food attentional bias would be positively associated with adiposity, (2) food attentional bias would be positively associated with energy intake and external eating, and (3) energy intake and external eating would partially mediate the association between food attentional bias and adiposity. Data were collected from a sample of 120 undergraduate students. Three measures of food attentional bias were obtained: reaction time bias obtained from a visual dot-probe task and direction bias and duration bias obtained from eye tracking. Adiposity indices of body mass index (kg/m2) and body fat percent were measured using standard medical devices. Data were obtained for two mediators: 1) energy intake was assessed by web-based automated 24-hour dietary recall and 2) external eating was assessed using the External Eating Subscale of the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire. Separate linear regression models examining the association between each measure of food attentional bias with each measure of adiposity (adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and subjective hunger) indicated no associations. Similarly, linear regression analyses revealed no associations between measures of food attentional bias and energy intake or external eating. Models testing for statistical mediation demonstrated that energy intake and external eating were not significant mediators. However, mediation analyses demonstrated a significant overall effect and direct effect between direction bias and BMI in a reduced sample used to test for energy intake as a mediator, suggesting the presence of an association which may not have been detected in the larger sample due to methodological issues, measurement error, or type I error. Despite the overall null results, these findings, in conjunction with previous studies on food attentional biases and adiposity, highlight the need for future investigations examining prospective associations between food attentional bias and adiposity.




Stewart, Purdue University.

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