Research Topic in Frontiers in Psychology: Eating Behavior Research in Children’s and Adolescents’ Naturalistic Environment

Children and adolescents’ eating behavior is determined by individual differences in feelings of hunger and satiety, responsiveness to food, food choices and preferences, and mood state, among other factors.

Although these are often biologically-based processes, they are shaped by elements related to the social and physical environment, such as the availability of food (food environment), parental (feeding) behaviors, family context, and other socio-cultural factors.

Where healthy eating is associated with mental and physical growth, unhea
lthy eating is related to adverse outcomes (e.g., obesity, eating disorders).

Past studies on eating behavior in children and adolescents have often relied on traditional assessment approaches that may incur many biases. These include single-occasion retrospective self- or parent-report assessments, which may be prone to recall and social desirability biases; and laboratory studies, which lack external/ecological validity. In particular, developmental factors may limit the accuracy of children’s recall and their comfort in laboratory settings, marking these traditional assessment techniques as especially problematic for younger populations.

Since eating occurs on a daily basis and is determined by environmental/contextual factors, studying eating behavior in children and adolescent’s naturalistic environment is warranted. Naturalistic ‘real-time’ approaches, such as ecological momentary assessment (but also other daily life sampling approaches such as ambulatory assessment and experience sampling methods), may offer new insights into predictors or correlates of eating behavior in children and adolescents.

These ‘real-time’ approaches provide several benefits over traditional approaches including:

  1. Enhanced ecological validity,
  2. Focus on current or very recent momentary states or behavior (reduced reliance on retrospective recall),
  3. Allowance for strategic selection of states and behaviors included in analyses, based on proximity to other constructs of interest or time of recording (event-based, time-based, or randomly prompted),
  4. Availability of multiple assessments, which allow for examination of how behaviors vary prospectively over time and across situations, and
  5. Potential employment of a wide variety of media (paper diary, electronic diary, smartphone/telephone, etc.) to increase applicability to multiple research contexts.

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