Self-regulation and obesity: the role of executive function and delay discounting in the prediction of weight loss

Fania C M Dassen*, Katrijn Houben, Vanessa Allom, Anita Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Obesity rates are rising worldwide. Executive function and delay discounting have been hypothesized to play important roles in the self-regulation of behavior, and may explain variance in weight loss treatment success. First, we compared individuals with obesity (n = 82) to healthy weight controls (n = 71) on behavioral and self-report measures of executive function (working memory, inhibition and shifting) and delay discounting. Secondly, the individuals with obesity took part in a multidisciplinary weight loss program and we examined whether executive function and delay discounting predicted weight change. Individuals with obesity displayed weaker general and food-specific inhibition, and weaker self-reported executive function. Better behavioral working memory and better self-reported inhibition skills in daily life were predictive of greater weight loss. As findings are correlational, future studies should investigate the causal relationship between executive function and weight loss, and test whether intervening on executive function will lead to better prevention and treatment of obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806–818
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date25 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Cite this