Targeting self-regulation to promote health behaviors in children

Behav Res Ther. 2018 Feb;101:71-81. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.09.008. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


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.

Trial registration: NCT03060863.

Keywords: Child; Eating behavior; Health behavior; Intervention; Obesity; Self-regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Control / methods*
  • Child
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Research Design
  • Self-Control / psychology*

Associated data