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The effects of positive affect and episodic future thinking on temporal discounting, and healthy food demand and choice among overweight and obese individuals: Protocol for a pilot 2x2 factorial randomized controlled study

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  • SM Levens
  • SJ Sagui-Henson
  • M Padro
  • LE Martin
  • EM Trucco
  • NA Cooperman
  • AS Baldwin
  • AP Kassianos
  • Noreen Dadirai Mdege


Publication details

JournalJMIR Research Protocols
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Dec 2018
DatePublished (current) - 20 Mar 2019
Issue number3
Number of pages13
Original languageEnglish


Background: Unhealthy behaviors (eg, poor food choices) contribute to obesity and numerous negative health outcomes, including multiple types of cancer and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. To promote healthy food choice, diet interventions should build on the dual-system model to target the regulation and reward mechanisms that guide eating behavior. Episodic future thinking (EFT) has been shown to strengthen regulation mechanisms by reducing unhealthy food choice and temporal discounting (TD), a process of placing greater value on smaller immediate rewards over larger future rewards. However, these interventions do not target the reward mechanisms that could support healthy eating and strengthen the impact of EFT-anchored programs.
Increasing positive affect (PosA) related to healthy food choices may target reward mechanisms by enhancing the rewarding effects of healthy eating. An intervention that increases self-regulation regarding unhealthy foods and the reward value of healthy foods will likely have a greater impact on eating behavior compared with interventions focused on either process alone.
Objective: This study aimed to introduce a protocol that tests the independent and interactive effects of EFT and PosA on TD, food choice, and food demand in overweight and obese adults.
Methods: This protocol describes a factorial, randomized, controlled pilot study that employs a 2 (affective imagery: positive, neutral) by 2 (EFT: yes, no) design in which participants are randomized to 1 of 4 guided imagery intervention arms. In total, 156 eligible participants will complete 2 lab visits separated by 5 days. At visit 1, participants complete surveys; listen to the audio guided imagery intervention; and complete TD, food demand, and food choice tasks. At visit 2, participants complete TD, food demand, and food choice tasks and surveys. Participants complete a daily food frequency questionnaire between visits 1 and 2. Analyses will compare primary outcome measures at baseline, post intervention, and at follow-up across treatment arms.
Results: Funding notification was received on April 27, 2017, and the protocol was approved by the institutional review board on October 6, 2017. Feasibility testing of the protocol was conducted from February 21, 2018, to April 18, 2018, among the first 32 participants. As no major protocol changes were required at the end of the feasibility phase, these 32 participants were included in the target sample of 156 participants. Recruitment, therefore, continued immediately after the feasibility phase. When this manuscript was submitted, 84 participants had completed the protocol.
Conclusions: Our research goal is to develop novel, theory-based interventions to promote and improve healthy decision-making and behaviors. The findings will advance decision-making research and have the potential to generate new neuroscience and psychological research to further understand these mechanisms and their interactions.
Trial Registration: ISRCTN Registry ISRCTN11704675; (Archived by WebCite
International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID): DERR1-10.2196/12265

Bibliographical note

©Sara M Levens, Sara J Sagui-Henson, Meagan Padro, Laura E Martin, Elisa M Trucco, Nina A Cooperman, Austin S Baldwin, Angelos P Kassianos, Noreen D Mdege.

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