Food through the child's eye: an eye-tracking study on attentional bias for food in healthy-weight children and children with obesity

J. Werthmann*, A. Jansen, A.C.E. Vreugdenhil, C. Nederkoorn, G. Schyns, A. Roefs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Objective: Obesity prevalence among children is high and knowledge on cognitive factors that contribute to children's reactivity to the "obesogenic" food environment could help to design effective treatment and prevention campaigns. Empirical studies in adults suggest that attention bias for food could be a risk factor for overeating. Accordingly, the current study tested if children with obesity have an elevated attention bias for food when compared to healthy-weight children. Another aim was to explore whether attention biases for food predicted weight-change after 3 and 6 months in obese children. Method: Obese children (n = 34) were recruited from an intervention program and tested prior to the start of this intervention. Healthy-weight children (n = 36) were recruited from local schools. First, attention biases for food were compared between children with obesity (n = 30) and matched healthy-weight children (n = 30). Second, regression analyses were conducted to test if food-related attention biases predicted weight changes after 3 and 6 months in children with obesity following a weight loss lifestyle intervention. Results: Results showed that obese children did not differ from healthy-weight children in their attention bias to food. Yet automatically directing attention toward food (i.e., initial orientation bias) was related to a reduced weight loss (R-2 = .14, p = .032) after 6 months in children with obesity. Discussion: High palatable food is a salient stimulus for all children, irrespective of their weight status. However, automatically directing attention to food cues might facilitate further weight gain in children with obesity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1132
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • CUES
  • attention bias
  • childhood
  • eye-tracking
  • obesity
  • weight gain


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