Interactions of approach motivation and self-regulation in relation to obesity in children



Motivation and self-regulation are two psychological systems that have been shown to be related to childhood obesity.


This study evaluated independent and interactive associations of approach-oriented motivation (i.e., drive and reward responsiveness) and self-regulation (i.e., self-control and behavioral regulation) in relation to age- and sex-adjusted body mass index-z scores (BMI-z) in children.


Children (55% female; Mage = 12.5 years ± .93) completed questionnaires assessing motivation and self-regulation, and anthropometric measurements were taken by research staff cross-sectionally.


Regressions revealed no independent associations of approach motivation or self-regulation and BMI-z. There were interactions between the drive facet of approach motivation, which assesses motivation to follow goals, and self-regulation in relation to BMI-z. Children with lower motivation to follow goals and lower self-regulation had higher BMI-z, and children with lower motivation to follow goals and higher self-regulation had lower BMI-z. Children with higher motivation to follow goals had similar BMI-z at all levels of self-regulation.


For children with low motivation to follow goals, self-regulation may be an important buffer of high BMI-z.

Level of evidence

Level V: cross-sectional descriptive study.

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Support for this project was provided by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (R01HL119255).

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Correspondence to Tyler B. Mason.

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The Institutional Review Boards of the University of Southern California and Northeastern University approved this study. 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.

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Parental consent and child assent were obtained from all individual participants included in the study. All eligible participants completed an electronic informed consent form prior to participation in the study.

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Mason, T.B., Do, B. & Dunton, G. Interactions of approach motivation and self-regulation in relation to obesity in children. Eat Weight Disord 26, 85–92 (2021).

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  • Motivation
  • Self-regulation
  • Obesity
  • Children
  • Weight