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Training kids in selective attention could help curb overeating


If children could be taught to focus their attention selectively, they might learn to curb patterns of overeating or consuming unhealthy foods, according to new research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Behavioral responses to food cues, the study found, can cause the brain to become wired to seek and expect certain rewards from food. But changing these responses can reverse the pattern.

“We believe that there is a group of people who are inherently sensitive to food cues and, over time, eating in response to paying attention to food makes them pay even more attention," said study author Kerri Boutelle, Ph.D. "It’s based on Pavlovian conditioning."

AMP training to move attention away from food

Boutelle and her team studied 24 overweight and obese children between the ages of 8 and 12 for the research project. Splitting them into two groups, one set of kids went through an attention modification program where they watched pairs of words flash across a computer screen. One word was food related, like "cake," while the other was a non-food-related word like "car."

After the words had appeared, the researchers flashed a letter on the screen that appeared in the same place that either the food word or the non-food word had been. The kids were asked to push a corresponding button on either the left or right to indicate the letter's location.

This type of "implicit training," Boutelle said, can call attention away from the food words when the letters are placed in the same spot as the non-food words.

Longer program may prove beneficial

Results suggested that kids who underwent this training ended up eating less and having fewer behavioral responses that would lead to overeating.

"It's surprising to find differences in eating after just one training program," said Boutelle, "but it's encouraging because it suggests that a longer program might have greater effect."

Boutelle said she hopes the study will encourage more research into the topic.

"Assuming attentional bias training is effective in larger studies, it could be provided in the form of a computer game which could be a stand-alone program or it could potentially enhance their ability to stick to a diet by decreasing the attention paid to food," she said.

Source: Medicine Net