October 9, 2017 – Targeting self-regulation to promote health behaviors in children
Poor self-regulation (i.e., inability to harness cognitive, emotional, motivational resources to achieve goals) is hypothesized to contribute to unhealthy behaviors across the lifespan. Enhancing early self-regulation may increase positive health outcomes. Obesity is a major public health concern with early-emerging precursors related to self-regulation; it is therefore a good model for understanding self-regulation and health behavior. Preadolescence is a transition when children increase autonomy in health behaviors (e.g., eating, exercise habits), many of which involve self-regulation. This paper presents the scientific rationale for examining self-regulation mechanisms that are hypothesized to relate to health behaviors, specifically obesogenic eating, that have not been examined in children. We describe novel intervention protocols designed to enhance self-regulation skills, specifically executive functioning, emotion regulation, future-oriented thinking, and approach bias. Interventions are delivered via home visits. Assays of self-regulation and obesogenic eating behaviors using behavioral tasks and self-reports are implemented and evaluated to determine feasibility and psychometrics and to test intervention effects. Participants are low-income 9-12 year-old children who have been phenotyped for self-regulation, stress, eating behavior and adiposity through early childhood. Study goals are to examine intervention effects on self-regulation and whether change in self-regulation improves obesogenic eating.