Influence of Sedentary, Social, and Physical Alternatives on Food Reinforcement

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Objective: This study examined the potential for nonfood alternative activities to compete with the reinforcing value of food. Participants rated the frequency and pleasantness of engaging in a variety of activities and made hypothetical choices between food and 4 types of alternatives; cognitive-enriching (reading, listening to music), social (attending a party or event), sedentary (watching TV), and physically active (running, biking). Method: Two-hundred seventy-six adults completed an online survey using a crowdsourcing platform. Results: Adults with higher BMI reported engaging in fewer activities within the cognitive-enriching, social, and physically active categories. When examining how well each alternative activity type was able to compete with food, sedentary alternatives were associated with the highest food reinforcement, or were least able to compete with food reinforcers, as compared with cognitive-enriching, social, and physical. Social activities were associated with the lowest food reinforcement, or the best able to compete with food reinforcers. Conclusion: These results suggest that increasing the frequency and range of nonfood alternative activities may be important to obesity. This study also suggests that the class of social activities may have the biggest impact on reducing food reinforcement, and the class of sedentary may have the smallest effect on food reinforcement. These tools have relevance to clinical interventions that capitalize on increasing access to behaviors that can reduce the motivation to eat in clinical interventions for obesity.

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