Inhibitory control and negative affect in relation to food intake among youth

Meghan E. Byrne, Lisa M. Shank, Deborah R. Altman, Taylor N. Swanson, Eliana Ramirez, Nia A. Moore, Sarah G. Rubin, Sarah LeMay-Russell, Megan N. Parker, Rachel E. Kaufman, Shanna B. Yang, Stephan L. Torres, Sheila M. Brady, Nichole R. Kelly, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff*, Jack A. Yanovski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Negative affect and poor inhibitory control are related to disinhibited eating behaviors in youth and may contribute to the development and/or maintenance of obesity. Although few studies have jointly examined these constructs in youth, it has been theorized that poor inhibitory control may be driven by negative affect. If supported, impaired inhibitory control, driven by negative affect, could represent a modifiable neurocognitive treatment target for disinhibited eating. The current study examined whether inhibitory control mediates the relationship between negative affect and eating among youth. Youth (8–17 years) participated in a Food Go/No-Go neurocognitive task to measure inhibitory control as the percentage of commission errors. A composite negative affect score was created from self-report measures of anxiety and depression. A laboratory buffet meal modeled to simulate disinhibited eating was used to measure total and snack food intake. Cross-sectional mediation models with bias-corrected bootstrap confidence intervals (CI) were conducted using negative affect as the independent variable, inhibitory control as the mediator, and intake patterns as dependent variables. One-hundred-eighty-one youths (13.2 ± 2.7y; 55% female; BMIz 0.6 ± 1.0) were studied. Total Go/No-Go commission errors mediated the relationship between negative affect and total intake (95%CI = [0.3, 31.6]), but not snack intake (95%CI = [-2.5, 7.3]). Commission errors for Food-Go blocks significantly mediated the relationship between negative affect and total intake (95%CI = [7.7, 44.4]), but not snack intake (95%CI = [-3.4, 9.5]). Commission errors on Neutral-Go blocks did not significantly mediate any of these relationships. Negative affect may lead to poorer inhibitory control as well as a stronger approach tendency toward food, increasing the likelihood of engaging in disinhibited eating. Future research should determine if, in combination with approaches to reduce negative affect, improved inhibitory control could help prevent overeating in youths with depressive or anxiety symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104858
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Disinhibited eating
  • Inhibitory control
  • Negative affect
  • Obesity


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhibitory control and negative affect in relation to food intake among youth'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this