Usual Energy Intake Mediates the Relationship Between Food Reinforcement and BMI




The relative reinforcing value of food (RRVfood) is positively associated with energy consumed and overweight status. One hypothesis relating these variables is that food reinforcement is related to BMI through usual energy intake. Using a sample of two hundred fifty-two adults of varying weight and BMI levels, results showed that usual energy intake mediated the relationship between RRVfood and BMI (estimated indirect effect = 0.0027, bootstrapped 95% confidence intervals (CIs) 0.0002–0.0068, effect ratio = 0.34), controlling for age, sex, minority status, education, and reinforcing value of reading (RRVreading). Laboratory and usual energy intake were correlated (r = 0.24, P < 0.001), indicating that laboratory energy intake could provide an index of eating behavior in the natural environment. The mediational relationship observed suggests that increasing or decreasing food reinforcement could influence body weight by altering food consumption. Research is needed to develop methods of modifying RRVfood to determine experimentally whether manipulating food reinforcement would result in changes in body weight.