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Implications of learning theory for developing programs to decrease overeating

  • Author(s): Boutelle, KN
  • Bouton, ME
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Childhood obesity is associated with medical and psychological comorbidities, and interventions targeting overeating could be pragmatic and have a significant impact on weight. Calorically dense foods are easily available, variable, and tasty which allows for effective opportunities to learn to associate behaviors and cues in the environment with food through fundamental conditioning processes, resulting in measurable psychological and physiological food cue reactivity in vulnerable children. Basic research suggests that initial learning is difficult to erase, and that it is vulnerable to a number of phenomena that will allow the original learning to re-emerge after it is suppressed or replaced. These processes may help explain why it may be difficult to change food cue reactivity and overeating over the long term. Extinction theory may be used to develop effective cue-exposure treatments to decrease food cue reactivity through inhibitory learning, although these processes are complex and require an integral understanding of the theory and individual differences. Additionally, learning theory can be used to develop other interventions that may prove to be useful. Through an integration of learning theory, basic and translational research, it may be possible to develop interventions that can decrease the urges to overeat, and improve the weight status of children.

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