Emotion regulation strategies and childhood obesity in high risk preschoolers

Appetite. 2016 Dec 1;107:623-627. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.09.008. Epub 2016 Sep 13.


The current study examined the relationships between the specific strategies that preschool children use to regulate their emotions and childhood weight status to see if emotion regulation strategies would predict childhood weight status over and above measures of eating self-regulation. 185 4- to 5-year-old Latino children were recruited through Head Start centers in a large city in the southeastern U.S. Children completed both a delay of gratification task (emotion regulation) and an eating in the absence of hunger task (eating regulation). Eating regulation also was assessed by maternal reports. Four emotion regulation strategies were examined in the delay of gratification task: shut out stimuli, prevent movement, distraction, and attention to reward. Hierarchical linear regressions predicting children's weight status showed that both measures of eating regulation negatively predicted child obesity, and the use of prevent movement negatively predicted child obesity. Total wait time during the delay of gratification tasks was not a significant predictor. The current findings are consistent with studies showing that for preschool children, summary measures of emotion regulation (e.g., wait time) are not concurrently associated with child obesity. In contrast, the use of emotion regulation strategies was a significant predictor of lower child weight status. These findings help identify emotion regulation strategies that prevention programs can target for helping children regulate their emotions and decrease their obesity risk.

Keywords: Child eating self-regulation; Child weight status; Delay of gratification; Emotional regulation; Executive functioning; Hispanic preschoolers.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Delay Discounting
  • Eating / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology
  • Reward
  • Risk Factors
  • Southeastern United States
  • United States