Low-income pre-schoolers with higher temperamental surgency enjoy and respond more to food, mediating the path to higher body mass index

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Temperament is associated with obesity risk. However, the mechanisms linking temperament and eating behaviour to childhood adiposity are unclear.


To examine whether three temperament dimensions (surgency, effortful control and negative lability) are uniquely associated with an increased BMI z score (BMIz) concurrently and an excessive rate of change in BMIz longitudinally through four eating behaviours (food responsiveness, enjoyment of food, emotional overeating and satiety responsiveness) among low-income pre-schoolers, independent of home environment quality.


379 pre-schoolers were recruited from Head Start in the Midwest region of the United States. Primary caregivers reported child temperament, eating behaviours and the level of chaos at home. Child BMIz was derived from weight and height measurements at ages 4, 5 and 6 years on average.


Path analyses revealed that higher levels of surgency predicted more food responsiveness and enjoyment of food, which was in turn associated with higher concurrent BMIz, independent of effortful control, negative lability and home chaos.


Low-income surgent pre-schoolers were more likely to have elevated BMIz as they were more inclined to eat in response to external cues and have a high appetitive drive. Obesity prevention programmes might target low-income children with surgent temperaments, and the identified eating behaviours.

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