Exposure to tempting foods as an intervention strategy to improve delay of gratification in children

  • E. de Vet
  • A. Verdonschot


Objective: Growing up in a world where unhealthy foods are abundantly available, urges the need for intervention strategies building resilience against tempting foods. We investigated whether exposure to attractive and salient foods can function as an intervention strategy to enhance children’s ability to delay gratification. Methods: A total of fifty-nine 4 to 6 year-olds participated in a between-subjects experiment. Children in the experimental condition (n=30) did a creative task with candy (fill in a colouring), while children in the control condition (n= 29) did the same task with beads. Next, a classical delay of gratification paradigm was used: children were offered one candy to eat immediately, or two if they could wait till the researcher returned. The researcher left the room and observed children’s use of strategies to resist the food temptation through a hidden live camera. After 10 minutes the researcher returned and offered the child candy if delay of gratification was successful. Findings: No significant intervention effect was found on subsequent delay of gratification, temptation avoidance and temptation approach strategies. However, this effect was moderated by liking of candy. The intervention improved the use of self-regulation strategies, but only if the liking of candy was moderate or low. Conclusion: Exposing children to tempting foods in a controlled way may not have negative effects on resisting food temptations at a later occasion, even if they feel strongly attracted to it. It may even be beneficial for those who like candy moderately.
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