Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Self-Regulatory Strategies for Eating Behaviour in Children and Adolescents: A Concept Mapping Approach

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Self-Regulatory Strategies for Eating Behaviour in Children and Adolescents: A Concept Mapping Approach

Article excerpt


The present study uses the concept mapping methodology to investigate the ideas children and adolescents have about their own self-regulation (defined as strategies for controlling behaviour, thoughts or emotions in order to achieve relevant goals) in relation to resisting unhealthy food temptations. Also, it aimed to compare self-regulatory strategies as a function of age and SES.

A total number of 121 children and adolescents, aged between 8 and 17 years old, participated in the three concept mapping sessions. All emerging concept maps comprised strategies regarding healthy eating and strategies for changing unhealthy eating patterns to healthier alternatives. Avoidance self-regulatory strategies were predominant in all groups regardless of age and SES. Behavioural strategies were named in all concept maps, while cognitive strategies were present starting with the 12-14 year old group. SES differences emerged in the 15-17 year old groups, as only the high SES group named goal setting and prioritizing as selfregulation strategies to avoid unhealthy foods.

These data help to develop interventions targeted to children and adolescents' needs regarding self-regulatory strategies to deal with unhealthy food temptations.

KEYWORDS: self-regulation, eating behaviour, children, adolescents, concept mapping


Unhealthy eating patterns are responsible for developing a wide range of health problems from obesity to diabetes or cardiovascular disease (Larson et al., 2008; Story, Neumark-Sztainer, & French., 2002; Xie, Gilliland, Li & Rockett, 2003) and eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa (Rozin, Bauer & Catanese, 2003). On the other hand, adopting healthy eating patterns such as eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day have been shown to have a good preventive value (Van Duyn & Pivonka, 2000).

Most eating patterns are formed during childhood and adolescence and determine future eating habits (Shepherd et al., 2006). Some of the changes associated with adolescence could also impact on the way eating patterns are modified during this developmental period. Problematic eating patterns (for example consuming large amount of sweets, skipping breakfast etc.) are often initiated during the transitional period from childhood to adolescence (Song, Schuette, Huang, & Hoerr, 1996). Also, teenagers tend to value their autonomy and can manifest it by choosing to eat only what they like, by refusing certain foods or by specific eating habits (i.e. they can skip breakfast, eat junk food and refuse to eat cooked meals at home). Research shows that teenagers that make their own choice about what foods they eat are 25 percent more likely to skip breakfast (Videon & Manning, 2003). Eating patterns can easily become risk behaviours associated with negative consequences such as being overweight or developing eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. For instance, a longitudinal study on the relation between fast-food consumption and changes in body mass index (BMI) during the transition from childhood to adolescence, has shown that rapid weight gain in girls is predicted by the consumption of fast-food products (Thompson et al., 2004).

Teenagers tend to spend more time with their peer group as compared to their family. This can also have consequences for their eating habits. One study showed that adolescents associate healthy food with eating at home with their family and relate unhealthy foods with being together with their friends (Croll, Neumark-Sztainer, & Story, 2001). One explanation could be that inside the family eating patterns are controlled by the parents, while when being with the peer group teenagers have to decide by themselves what they eat and also deal with unhealthy food temptations on their own. Moreover, studies have shown that the availability of high fat snacks determines their consumption (Martens, van Assema, & Brug, 2005) and failure in applying self-regulatory strategies has been linked to high calorie foods intake and obesity (Tice et al. …

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