Relationships of Cognitive Load on Eating and Weight-related Behaviors of Young Adults

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Adolescent, Body Mass Index, Body Weight, Cognition, Eating, Exercise, Feeding Behavior, Female, Fruit, Health Behavior, Humans, Male, Students, Surveys and Questionnaires, Vegetables, Waist Circumference, Young Adult


Little is known about the relationship between weight-related behaviors and cognitive load (working memory available to complete mental activities like those required for planning meals, selecting foods, and other health-related decisions). Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore associations between cognitive load and eating behaviors, physical activity, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference of college students. College students (n=1018) from 13 institutions completed an online survey assessing eating behaviors (e.g., routine and compensatory restraint, emotional eating, and fruit/vegetable intake), stress level, and physical activity level. BMI and waist circumference were measured by trained researchers. A cognitive load score was derived from stress level, time pressure/income needs, race and nationality. High cognitive load participants (n=425) were significantly(P < 0.05) more likely to be female, older, and further along in school than those with low cognitive loads (n = 593). Compared to low cognitive load participants, high cognitive load participants were significantly more likely to eat < 5 cups of fruits/vegetables/day, have greater routine and compensatory restraint, and greater susceptibility to eating in response to external cues and emotional eating. Both males and females with high cognitive load scores had a non-significant trend toward higher BMIs, waist circumferences, and drinking more alcohol than low cognitive load counterparts. In conclusion, cognitive load may be an important contributor to health behaviors. Understanding how cognitive load may affect eating and other weight-related behaviors could potentially lead to improvements in the effectiveness of obesity prevention and intervention programs.

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Eating Behaviors



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