Children’s and Adult’s Visual Attention to Healthy and Unhealthy Food: Comparing Self-Regulatory Capacity


  • A. F. Junghans
  • I.I. Hooge
  • J. Maas
  • C. Evers
  • D.T. D. De Ridder


Background: Visual attention to unhealthy food triggers the urge to eat and thereby creates self-control conflicts in people trying to eat healthily. Avoiding visual attention to unhealthy food can thus be considered a self-regulatory strategy. Self-regulatory capacity has been shown to develop throughout childhood and adolescence suggesting that adults self regulate better than children. Methods: Using a novel eye-tracking paradigm children's and adults' initial fixation (bottom-up) and retained dwell time (top-down), were measured upon exposure to healthy and unhealthy food pictures. Findings: Results revealed increased initial attention to unhealthy food in children and adults. For retained attention however, adults self-regulated their visual attention away from the unhealthy towards the healthy food, while children did not self-regulate visual attention away from unhealthy food despite their self-reported attempts to eat healthily. Discussion: These findings emphasize the necessity of improving children's self-regulatory skills to support healthy eating in an obesogenic environment and promote a novel technique of examining self-regulatory capacity.






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