Palatable food consumption in children: interplay between (food) reward motivation and the home food environment


To understand the importance of the home food environment on unhealthy food consumption in children high in reward sensitivity, this study tested the hypothesis that the home availability of unhealthy food moderates the effect of reward sensitivity on children’s fast-food consumption frequency, exerted via food cue responsiveness. Children between 7.5 and 14 years (n = 174, 50.6% boys) reported on reward sensitivity and food cue responsiveness (by means of the subscale ‘external eating’). Their height and weight were measured. Parents reported on their children’s fast-food consumption frequency, food cue responsiveness (by means of the subscale ‘food responsiveness’), and on the home availability of unhealthy foods. Two moderated mediation models were conducted, one with the parent- and one with the child-reported food cue responsiveness as mediator. Findings suggested that with a high home availability of unhealthy foods, (a) a higher fast-food consumption frequency was found in children high in reward sensitivity and (b) the relation between reward sensitivity and the fast-food consumption frequency was mediated by external eating.

Conclusions: The findings point at the importance of the home food environment in children high in reward sensitivity. They suggest to limit the home availability of unhealthy foods.

What is Known:
Reward sensitivity (RS) is positively associated with children’s palatable food consumption
In adolescents, this effect is mediated by food cue responsiveness, which determines the strength of an individual’s motivation to obtain food when perceiving food cues
What is New:
Children high in RS may be more vulnerable to palatable food cues in their everyday food environment because of a higher food cue responsiveness
The home food environment may be an important determining factor of the palatable food consumption of these children

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Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants


Reward sensitivity


Age- and sex-independent z-score of body mass index


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The authors want to thank the participating children and their parents for their voluntary participation. This work was done as part of the I.Family Study ( and as part of the REWARD study (; we gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the European Community within the Seventh RTD Framework Programme Contract No. 266044 and the Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (grant number SBO-120054), respectively. Further, I. Sioen received funding from the Research Foundation - Flanders (grant number 1.2.683.14.N.00).

Authors’ contributions

All authors made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the study. ADD, ISioen and SV organized the data collection. ADD carried out the analyses, made the figures and drafted the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation of data, critically revised the paper and approved the final paper as submitted.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Annelies De Decker.

Ethics declarations


This study was funded by the European Community within the Seventh RTD Framework Programme (Contract No. 266044), the Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (grant number SBO-120054), and, for I. Sioen, the Research Foundation - Flanders (grant number 1.2.683.14.N.00).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The I.Family-Forces study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Ghent University Hospital (approval number EC/2013/058).

Informed consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all parents and from all children older than 12 years. Younger children gave verbal assent.

Additional information

An erratum to this article is available at

Communicated by Mario Bianchetti

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De Decker, A., Verbeken, S., Sioen, I. et al. Palatable food consumption in children: interplay between (food) reward motivation and the home food environment. Eur J Pediatr 176, 465–474 (2017).

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  • Reward sensitivity
  • Palatable food
  • Home availability
  • Food responsiveness
  • External eating
  • Child