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Temptations to Eat Moderated by Personal and Environmental Self-regulation Tools

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Healthy help for adolescents who overeat

An extensive study on the eating habits of adolescents is helping to develop methods for resisting temptation and for controlling obesity.

Health

In the age of fast food, soft drinks and sedentary lifestyles, European adolescents are rapidly gaining weight, raising concerns among health care professionals, educators and policymakers. The EU-funded project 'Temptations to eat moderated by personal and environmental self-regulation tools' (TEMPEST) investigated this phenomenon in nine European countries. Conducting a study of around 15 000 adolescents across Europe between 10 and 17 years old, the project looked at how this age group can regulate food intake in a food-rich or obesogenic environment. The project team particularly looked at self-regulatory competence (controlling one's impulses to overcome immediate gratification) as a promising approach to addressing the challenge of being overweight. It analysed to what extent the improvement of self-regulatory competence empowers children and adolescents to deal with unhealthy temptations in their environment. TEMPEST looked at mechanisms to discourage unhealthy temptations such as by employing incentive schemes (e.g. raising the price of unhealthy foods or banning products). It then considered how young people respond to such encouragements for changing behaviour. The project's work revealed several strategies that adolescents employ for controlling their impulses. These include avoiding or controlling temptations, suppression of desires, and distraction from overeating, as well as goal and rule setting to achieve healthier eating habits. Importantly, the project underlined that health promotion should not solely focus on changing the food environment, but on teaching young people strategies to effectively deal with excess. It proposed solutions such as adjusting the social image related to unhealthy food items and pre-exposing adolescents to food temptations to enhance self-regulation of eating. More specifically, self-regulation strategies include reducing the temptations adolescents face in their daily food environment, reducing the value that is given to a temptation and supporting healthy eating goals. Recommendations that fall under these categories — from avoiding the candy section in supermarkets to hiding crisps before watching TV — can help adolescents take control of their lives. These and other findings have been disseminated to target audiences — including students, schools, parents, government stakeholders and the food industry — in a variety of ways. Communication tools include the project website, newsletters, workshops and conferences, as well as the TEMPEST Handbook that documents scientific insights into the role of self-regulation of eating behaviour for different audiences. Through all the tools, recommendations and publications emerging from this project, Europe's adolescents may come out slimmer and healthier if the uptake of the project's results is effective.

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