Today's environment provides many hedonic stimuli that promote consumption of unhealthy energy-dense snack foods. It is widely recognized that a systems approach is required to deal with this complex problem. However, individuals, particularly children, also need to develop the personal capacity to deal with tempting stimuli and inhibit responses to these energy-dense foods. Therefore in this proposal, we will focus on enhancing higher level executive functions, particularly inhibitory control, which is needed to counterbalance impulsive behavior and is crucial for growth and development. We have chosen to focus on developing inhibitory control in preschool-age children because executive functioning/inhibitory control and eating habits are developing at this time. Among preschool-age children, inhibitory control is fostered through social play-based curriculums and has been found to be related to greater school readiness and academic skills. Therefore, the goal of this proposal is to adapt a play-based curriculum, the Tools of the Mind program, to promote greater inhibitory control skills in preschool children and decrease consumption of energy-dense snack foods. In Phase I, we will develop and pilot a Child Inhibitory Control Play-based Program (CHIC Play) among children age 4- to 6-years old. We will adapt the learning tools used in the Tools of the Mind curriculum and employ naturalistic play scenarios, drawings (visual support), and games to teach children to inhibit their responses to energy-dense snack foods. Once developed, we will test the efficacy of CHIC Play in the preschool setting. Parent groups will also be conducted to support the adoption of these skills at home. The primary outcome of interest is caloric intake and age- and gender-adjusted percent of daily caloric intake as measured by the Eating in the Absence of Hunger free access procedure and a snack time procedure. Inhibitory control skills will also be measured using executive functioning tasks. Feasibility and acceptability of this program will be determined from parent, child, and teacher surveys. The purpose of this study is to develop a new innovative method of decreasing energy-dense snack food consumption by promoting the development of inhibitory control or impulse control. If successful, this program has the potential to play a role in the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity.

Public Health Relevance

The purpose of this application is to develop and evaluate a previously untested method of teaching inhibitory control skills to children around energy-dense snack foods and ultimately decrease consumption/caloric intake of these foods. This project could result in identifying a novel method of obesity treatment/prevention and enhance current therapies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-N (03))
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Haverkos, Lynne
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University of California San Diego
Schools of Medicine
La Jolla
United States
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Mestre, Z L; Bischoff-Grethe, A; Eichen, D M et al. (2017) Hippocampal atrophy and altered brain responses to pleasant tastes among obese compared with healthy weight children. Int J Obes (Lond) 41:1496-1502