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Targeting executive function for weight loss in adults with overweight or obesity

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Obesity is associated with a multitude of negative health sequalae. Behavioral weight loss (BWL) is currently the recommended behavioral treatment for obesity; however, it is not effective for approximately half of the individuals who participate. BWL requires individuals to carry out many tasks requiring executive function (EF; i.e., higher order cognitive functions such as planning and problem solving) in order to be successful. Growing research supports that lower EF may be associated with attenuated weight loss following BWL, and targeting EF in treatment could improve outcomes. This paper aims to describe the rationale for the development of Novel Executive Function Training for Obesity (NEXT), which adapts Compensatory Cognitive Training to be delivered in conjunction with BWL. We summarize evidence relating EF to obesity and reduced weight loss following BWL, as well as the past success of cognitive training on EF. Then we describe the treatment model for NEXT followed by initial data suggesting that NEXT is feasible and acceptable and may impact EF and weight. Obesity treatments incorporating cognitive training, especially those that train compensatory strategies, may improve weight-loss outcomes and provide a more durable treatment than traditional interventions, but larger randomized control trials are necessary.

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