Associations between inhibitory control, eating behaviours and adiposity in 6-year-old children



Lower inhibitory control has been associated with obesity. One prediction is that lower inhibitory control underlies eating behaviours that promote increased energy intakes. This study examined the relationships between children’s inhibitory control measured using the Stop Signal Task (SST), body composition and eating behaviours, which included self-served portion size, number of servings, eating rate, and energy intake at lunch and in an eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) task.


The sample included 255 6-year-old children from an Asian cohort. Stop-signal reaction time (SSRT) was used as an index of inhibitory control. Children participated in a recorded self-served lunchtime meal, followed by the EAH task where they were exposed to energy-dense snacks. Behavioural coding of oral processing was used to estimate eating rates (g/min). BMI, waist circumference and skinfolds were used as indices of adiposity.


Children with lower inhibitory control tended to self-serve larger food portions (p = 0.054), had multiple food servings (p = 0.006) and significantly faster eating rates (p = 0.041). Inhibitory control did not predict energy intake at lunch (p = 0.17) or during the EAH task (p = 0.45), and was unrelated to measures of adiposity (p > 0.32). Twenty percent of the children in the sample had problems focusing on the SST and were described as ‘restless’. Post-hoc analysis revealed that these children had lower inhibitory control (p < 0.001) and consumed more energy during the EAH task (p = 0.01), but did not differ in any other key outcomes from the rest of the sample (p > 0.1).


Children with lower inhibitory control showed a trend to select larger food portions, had multiple food servings and faster eating rates, but were equally as responsive to snacks served in the absence of hunger as children with better inhibitory control. Inhibitory control may impact a number of eating behaviours, not limited to energy-dense snacks.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available yet due to ongoing data collection, but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The GUSTO study group includes Allan Sheppard, Amutha Chinnadurai, Anne Eng Neo Goh, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Anqi Qiu, Arijit Biswas, Bee Wah Lee, Birit F.P. Broekman, Boon Long Quah, Borys Shuter, Chai Kiat Chng, Cheryl Ngo, Choon Looi Bong, Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, Claudia Chi, Cornelia Yin Ing Chee, Yam Thiam Daniel Goh, Doris Fok, E Shyong Tai, Elaine Tham, Elaine Quah Phaik Ling, Evelyn Chung Ning Law, Evelyn Xiu Ling Loo, Fabian Yap, Falk Mueller-Riemenschneider, George Seow Heong Yeo, Helen Chen, Heng Hao Tan, Hugo P S van Bever, Iliana Magiati, Inez Bik Yun Wong, Ivy Yee-Man Lau, Izzuddin Bin Mohd Aris, Jeevesh Kapur, Jenny L. Richmond, Jerry Kok Yen Chan, Joanna D. Holbrook, Joanne Yoong, Joao N. Ferreira., Jonathan Tze Liang Choo, Jonathan Y. Bernard, Joshua J. Gooley, Keith M. Godfrey, Kenneth Kwek, Kok Hian Tan, Krishnamoorthy Niduvaje, Kuan Jin Lee, Leher Singh, Lieng Hsi Ling, Lin Lin Su, Ling-Wei Chen, Lourdes Mary Daniel, Lynette P Shek, Marielle V. Fortier, Mark Hanson, Mary Foong-Fong Chong, Mary Rauff, Mei Chien Chua, Melvin Khee-Shing Leow, Michael Meaney, Mya Thway Tint, Neerja Karnani, Ngee Lek, Oon Hoe Teoh, P. C. Wong, Paulin Tay Straughan, Peter D. Gluckman, Pratibha Agarwal, Queenie Ling Jun Li, Rob M. van Dam, Salome A. Rebello, Seang-Mei Saw, See Ling Loy, S. Sendhil Velan, Seng Bin Ang, Shang Chee Chong, Sharon Ng, Shiao-Yng Chan, Shirong Cai, Shu-E Soh, Sok Bee Lim, Stella Tsotsi, Chin-Ying Stephen Hsu, Sue Anne Toh, Swee Chye Quek, Victor Samuel Rajadurai, Walter Stunkel, Wayne Cutfield, Wee Meng Han, Wei Wei Pang, Yap-Seng Chong, Yin Bun Cheung, Yiong Huak Chan and Yung Seng Lee.

Author contributions

This study was conceived and designed by AF, KMC and CGF. ATG, KMC and AF processed the data. Analyses were performed and interpreted by AF. AF, KMC and CGF prepared the draft manuscript with input from LRF and MFFC. YSC, KHT, FY, LPS, MJM, BFPB, YSL and KMG were responsible for conception and recruitment for the GUSTO cohort. KMC and CGF designed the eating behaviour measures. BFPB, CS and PPS contributed to the design of neurocognitive measures. CGF had full access to the data and final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication. All authors reviewed and approved the final draft.


This work was supported by the Translational Clinical Research (TCR) Flagship Program on Developmental Pathways to Metabolic Disease funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and administered by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC), Singapore-NMRC/TCR/004-NUS/2008. Additional funding was provided by the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, A*STAR and Nestec SA. KMG is supported by the UK Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12011/4), the National Institute for Health Research (as an NIHR Senior Investigator (NF-SI-0515–10042) and through the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and by the European Union’s Erasmus + Capacity-Building ENeASEA Project and Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013), project Early Nutrition under grant agreement n°289346.

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Correspondence to Ciarán G. Forde.

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Conflict of interest

KMG, CGF, YSL and YSC have received reimbursement for speaking at conferences sponsored by companies selling nutritional products. They are part of an academic consortium that has received research funding from Abbott Nutrition, Nestec and Danone. LRF is an employee of Nestec SA, working at the Nestlé Research Center. CGF currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Council for Kerry Taste and Nutrition. The remaining authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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