Unhealthy dietary intake and obesity account for a substantial proportion of new cases of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer in the U.S., but the behavioral factors that influence the selection of unhealthy, obesity-promoting foods from the environment are unknown. The ability to delay gratification has been shown to be an important predictor of food intake in laboratory and naturalistic settings, but it is unknown whether or how this trait may influence real-world food choices in different contexts. The proposed study tests a behavioral model of food choice based on the ability to delay gratification. Highly innovative methods will be used to assess the nutrient content of household food choices among 121 adults who are the primary household food shoppers. Household food purchases will be documented by research staff during repeated home assessment visits, and the foods available in the home environment will be documented by researchers using a validated auditing instrument. Ability to delay gratification will be measured using a binary choice task that quantifies the relative subjective value of rewards as a function of time to their delivery.
Specific Aim 1 tests whether individuals who are less able to delay gratification make less healthful household food purchases, reflected in a single summary index of overall diet quality. Analyses will also explore whether the association between the ability to delay gratification and the healthfulness of food purchases varies across different food sources, as supermarkets, small grocery stores, and convenience stores substantially differ in the foods available for purchase.
Specific Aim 2 examines whether individuals who are less able to delay gratification tend to create obesity-promoting home food environments, reflected in the number of high-calorie foods present in the home.
Specific Aim 3 addresses the relationship between the ability to delay gratification and reliance on foods prepared away-from-home, with the prediction that individuals who are less able to delay gratification will purchase a larger percentage of total calories from fast food, take-out/delivery, and full-service restaurants. Support for a behavioral model in which the ability to delay gratification influences food choice would advance the scientific understanding of vulnerability to cardiometabolic diseases in the modern environment and suggest new dietary intervention strategies.
The behavioral factors that influence the selection of unhealthy, obesity-promoting foods in the modern environment are poorly understood. This project tests a behavioral model of food choice based on individual differences in the ability to delay gratification that may advance the scientific understanding of vulnerability to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke in the modern environment, and suggest more effective dietary intervention strategies.
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