Does Impulsive Response to Internal and External Food Cues Lead to Higher Calorie Intake?: Self-Control and Food Intake

Does Impulsive Response to Internal and External Food Cues Lead to Higher Calorie Intake?: Self-Control and Food Intake

Jebaraj Asirvatham (Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/IJABE.2018010102

Abstract

Measuring the impact of self-control on caloric intake has proved challenging in non-experimental studies. In this article, we study the relationship between self-control and food intake quantified by calories. Using validated behavioral measures, we find that impulsivity increases caloric intake, and that restraint decreases intake. Furthermore, the effect of impulsivity and restraint is more pronounced at the upper end of the calorie distribution. Thus, individuals already consuming more calories display a heightened reaction and likelihood to succumb to food environmental pressures. An individual's decision to diet, when allowed to vary with behavioral measures, bears no unique significance on caloric intake. Our results are robust to different levels of physical activity and generally robust to underreporting.
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Introduction

Healthy eating and physical exercise, among others, are the keys to maintaining a healthy weight (Prentice and Jebb 1995; Astrup 1999)1. In the literature, a consensus exists that calorie intake has increased and calorie expenditure has decreased over the last few decades (Cutler, Glaeser, and, Shapiro 2003; Philipson and Posner 2003). A review article by Finkelstein et al. suggests decreasing food price, reductions in relative-price of energy-dense foods, increasing wages, increasing female labor force participation and the increased availability of fast-food restaurants are among several reasons for increased caloric intake (Finkelstein, Ruhm, and Kosa 2005). One stream of literature has focused on the role of behavioral factors on food intake. As a result, there is a growing interest in measuring the impact of impulsiveness or lack of self-control on dietary choices (Jamison and Wegener 2010). Studying diet behavior is important since food not only satisfies an individual’s calorie needs and gratifies in the present but also has long-term health effects. In this study, we examine the role of impulsivity and self-control in determining calorie intake in the context of internal food cues and cues in the external environment. Self-control can be thought of as restraint dominating the impulse (Ainslie 2005). Impulsive factors separately measure the effect of eating in response to internal cues (i.e., internal impulsivity) and that in response to external environment (i.e., external impulsivity). We also examine how these factors affect calorie consumption for those groups consuming greater quantities of calories over and above the energy intake conditional on their physical activity levels.

Previous studies on impulsivity and caloric intake or food choices were mostly undertaken in experimental settings which, typically, involves small samples selected from a population of specific characteristics (Guerrieri et al. 2009; Forzano, Chelonis, and Casey 2010; Hou et al. 2011). Nederkoorn et al. (2009), for example, studied less than 100 subjects and found the group demonstrating higher levels of restraint consumed 200 fewer calories per day compared to the low restraint group. Our study uses a large sample from a more broadly defined population and therefore, our findings more representative and applicable to a broader population. Here, we use secondary data for a random sample of about 1,500 residents of the United Kingdom (UK).

Research on impulsive behaviors has recently gained interest in behavioral economics (Gul and Pesendorfer 2004; Fudenberg and Levine 2006; Brocas and Carrillo 2008). These studies have drawn evidence from neuroscience and psychology, and have proposed models of a dual self that explicitly account for restraint and impulsivity. Following the behavioral economics literature, the short-term self in this study is measured by impulsivity, while the long-term self that considers long-term implications is measured by restraint.

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