The association of emotion-driven impulsiveness, cognitive inflexibility and decision-making with weight status in European adolescents

J.M.J. Coumans, U.N. Danner, W. Ahrens, A. Hebestreit, T. Intemann, Y.A. Kourides, L. Lissner, N. Michels, L.A. Moreno, P. Russo, S. Stomfai, T. Veidebaum, R.A.H. Adan

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    OBJECTIVE: To explore the association between emotion-driven impulsiveness, cognitive inflexibility, decision-making and weight status as reflected in body mass index (BMI) z-score (zBMI) in European adolescents.

    METHODS: In total, 3354 adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years from the I,Family cohort completed the questionnaire-based negative urgency subscale from the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale to measure emotion-driven impulsiveness in 2013/2014. Furthermore, 1584 adolescents completed the computer-based Bergs Card Sorting Test to measure cognitive inflexibility, and 1780 adolescents completed the Hungry Donkey Test to assess decision-making ability. Anthropometric variables were measured objectively; confounding variables (age, sex, socioeconomic status and country) were assessed using a questionnaire. Mixed-effect regression analyses were conducted for each outcome of the test or questionnaire as a predictor with standardised BMI (zBMI) as the dependent variable in order to investigate association between markers of cognitive functioning and zBMI.

    RESULTS: After controlling for confounders, results showed that emotion-driven impulsiveness beta=0.18, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.13 to 0.24, P <0.001) and cognitive inflexibility (beta = 0.01, 95% CI: 0.002 to 0.02, P=0.016) were positively associated with zBMI. However, decision-making ability was not significantly related to zBMI (beta = 0.001, 95% CI: 0.001 to 0.003, P=0.47).

    CONCLUSIONS: More emotion-driven impulsiveness and reduced cognitive flexibility were associated with a higher zBMI in adolescents across Europe. These results may indicate that being impulsive in negative situations and having difficulties changing mental sets increase the susceptibility for unhealthy weight development. Reducing impulsivity and training cognitive flexibility seem promising targets for the prevention and intervention programmes of obesity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to) 655–661
    Number of pages7
    JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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