Background

Adolescence is an understudied, yet critical time period for the development overweight and obesity.Identifying behavioral phenotypes that predict excess weight gain during adolescence is a necessary step toward designing novel obesity interventions.This study examined the relationship between changes in reinforcing value (RV) for high energy density (HED) food after repeated daily intake and zBMI.

Methods

We measured the RV of HED food at baseline and after two weeks of daily intake of HED snack food in 205 adolescents aged 12 – 14 years.We calculated sensitization score as the difference between the RV of HED food at these two visits.Individuals with positive sensitization scores were classified as “sensitizers”.Additional covariates were selected based on correlations with either zBMI or sensitization and they included pubertal stage, scores from the Dutch Eating Behavior (DEBQ) questionnaire, hunger, liking, baseline RV of HED food, delay discounting (DD), and reinforcement pathology (RV x DD).

Results

The average sensitization score was -50.8 + 13.1, with 25% of the sample classified as sensitizers.A hierarchical linear regression model showed that pubertal development (β = 0.33; p < 0.0001) and DEBQ score ( β= 0.35; p < 0.0001) were significantly associated with zBMI.Adding baseline RV of HED food, hunger,HED food liking, DD and reinforcement pathology did not increase the variance accounted for,but the addition of sensitization to HED food significantly increased the variance accounted for (R2 change = 0.03;β= 0.20; p = 0.01).The final model accounted for 26% of the variance in zBMI (F(9, 196) = 7.2; p < 0.0001).

Conclusions

Consistent with our findings from adults, sensitization to repeated HED food intake is predictive of greater zBMI.This suggests that eating patterns, snack food access, and alternative reinforcers to food may be promising behavioral targets for future interventions in adolescents.