Obesity is among the most prevalent and costly conditions in the United States. To face this pivotal public health challenge, there is a need for ground-breaking research aimed at explicating modifiable factors associated with the development of obesity to inform interventions. Studies aimed at elucidating neural vulnerability factors for obesity ? including high food reward sensitivity and poor food regulation ? hold particular promise. However, relatively little is known about the modifiable factors that contribute to these neural vulnerabilities, thus precluding the development of potentially powerful interventions to promote healthy long-term weight trajectories. Further, the limited research in this area lacks critical developmental and environmental context. The current proposal addresses these gaps by examining the roles of selected modifiable cognitive (executive control), behavioral (diet, sleep), affective (negative affect), and environmental (obesogenic environment) factors throughout childhood and adolescence in predicting emerging neural vulnerabilities for obesity during the pivotal transition to young adulthood. The study leverages rich data from a unique existing longitudinal study spanning preschool through adolescence, and adds new data collection using functional neuroimaging paradigms to assess neural vulnerability factors for obesity in young adulthood. The long-term goal is to inform novel interventions targeting key modifiable factors during childhood and adolescence to reduce long-term obesity risk. The objective of the proposed research, therefore, is to elucidate the impact of theoretically-relevant cognitive, behavioral, affective, and environmental factors on emerging neural vulnerability factors in the context of a longitudinal study spanning preschool to young adulthood. The central hypothesis is that emerging neural vulnerabilities for obesity are significantly influenced by a multidimensional set of modifiable factors in childhood and adolescence.
The specific aims are to: 1) Determine the impact of executive control development across childhood and adolescence on food reward sensitivity and regulation in young adulthood; 2) Determine the impact of a set of behavioral and affective factors in adolescence (i.e., diet, sleep, negative affect) on food reward sensitivity and regulation in young adulthood; and 3) Explore the impact of the obesogenic environment encountered in adolescence on food reward sensitivity and regulation in young adulthood. The project is innovative in its unique leveraging of rigorous existing longitudinal data; cutting-edge neuroimaging paradigms; and novel attention to the interplay between brain, environment, behavior, and health. The significance of this research is that it will yield unprecedented insight into modifiable factors that contribute to neural vulnerabilities for obesity, all within rich developmental and environmental context. These insights will inform novel obesity interventions targeting critical individual and environmental factors at key points in development to reduce long-term obesity risk.
The public health relevance of the proposed research is in explicating modifiable factors that contribute to neural vulnerabilities for obesity within developmental and environmental context. By elucidating which factors during childhood and adolescence are most critical to emerging neural vulnerabilities in young adulthood, the proposed study will directly inform the targets and timing of interventions to prevent and treat obesity. Thus, the proposed research is relevant to NIDDK's strategic focus on understanding modifiable factors that contribute to obesity risk and informing interventions to promote healthy weight.