Background

Obesity is a multifaceted issue that is derived from a combination of genetic and behavioral factors, and is difficult to reverse over time. In order to combat obesity and help obese individuals lose and maintain weight loss, the neurobehavioral factors that support how and why individuals engage in healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity, must be understood. To date, few studies have investigated the relationship between neurobehavioral factors such as eating and exercise attitudes and motivations in obese populations.

Methods

Behavioral economic measures, self-reported questionnaires, and neuropsychological assessments were utilized to understand why obesity is linked to poor lifestyle choices. From data gathered online through Amazon mTURK, a cross-sectional analysis of the relationship between lifestyle choices, and attitudes towards and motivation for these choices was conducted in a large sample (n=240) of weight-stable adults (ages 18-45) with a range of BMIs. Regression models were used to determine the capacity of these health behaviors, motivations, and attitudes to predict obesity.

Results

In comparison to obese individuals, non-obese individuals make more health-conscious decisions and demonstrate greater motivations for and more positive attitudes towards eating and exercise.A logistic regression model revealed that motivations and attitudes toward eating, exercise, and body image predict obesity.

Conclusions

Our findings indicate that impaired eating and exercise motivations and attitudes may be the psychological mechanisms underlying the unhealthy lifestyle choices that contribute to obesity. The results from this study will lay the groundwork for interventional studies to target altering the motivations and attitudes of individuals towards the ultimate goal of sustained weight loss in obese populations.