Background

Food reinforcement, in particular the relative reinforcing value of food, predicts weight gain in both children and adults. In addition, the availability of home cognitive enrichment has been related to childhood obesity risk. Research suggests that having non-food reinforcers may be protective for children who are high in food reinforcement, but it is unknown if these are distinct risk factors. We examined the relationship between zBMI, food and non-food reinforcement and home enrichment in a sample of 188 6-9-year-old children.

Methods

. Children completed two sessions in which they completed the relative reinforcing value (RRV) task and one home visit. In the RRV task, children were able to earn points on a progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement for a favorite or moderately liked snack food and their favorite non-food alternative, which included activities like coloring and jump rope. The breakpoint was assessed by examining the highest completed schedule for both food and non-food reinforcers. RRV was scored by calculating the proportional breakpoint responding for food versus total responding. Home cognitive enrichment was measured using the Home Observation Measurement of the Environment interview. We used linear regression to look at the relationship between RRV, home enrichment and zBMI, controlling for child age and sex.

Results

RRV (b = 0.78, p = 0.02), and home enrichment scores (b = -0.11, p = 0.05) were significantly correlated with zBMI. When adding both independent variables to the model, RRV (b = 0.80, p = 0.02) and home enrichment (b = -0.12, p = 0.04) were both significantly and independently related to zBMI, accounting for 3% and 2.3% of the variance respectfully (total R2 = 0.071).

Conclusions

Both relative reinforcing value of food and home enrichment are related to childhood zBMI scores and are independent predictors of zBMI. Future research will examine how each of these predictors are related to weight change in children.