Many obesity intervention programs hope to achieve their goal by means of health education (Anderson, Luan, & Høie, 2004). Usually, recommendations concerning dietary guidelines are provided. An important assumption in these education-based programs is that increased knowledge leads to behavioral change (van 't Riet, Sijtsema, Dagevos, & De Bruijn, 2011). However, knowledge alone does not seem to be sufficient for most individuals to modify and maintain healthful behavior over an extended period (Schaefer & Magnuson, 2014; Webb & Sheeran, 2006). In fact, dieting even seems to be associated with future weight gain(Havermans, Giesen, Houben, & Jansen, 2011; Schaefer & Magnuson, 2014). Thus, it has been suggested that treatment interventions should not be exclusively focus on education (Kirschenbaum & Gierut, 2013). A reason for the modest effectiveness of education-based treatment may be that many processes involved in eating behavior are not consciously planned and deliberate, but occur on a more automatic level instead (van 't Riet et al., 2011).
Because of the observed overlap between obesity and substance abuse, excessive eating has been termed addictive behavior (Corsica & Pelchat, 2010; Volkow, Wang, Tomasi, & Baler, 2013). One well-known theory of the mechanisms of addiction is the incentive-sensitization model by Robinson and Berridge (Robinson & Berridge, 1993). This model states that rewarding properties are increasingly attributed to the object of addiction and its associations through classical conditioning, leading to increased liking and wanting. The objects become more salient and increasingly attention-grabbing and trigger automatic approach behavior. This motivational activation of approach is regulated by the dopaminergic reward system and occurs implicitly (Stice & Yokum, 2016).
The focus of the present project is on the first and last components of the incentive-sensitization model; a positive implicit attitude towards energy-dense food and automatic approach behavior. Randomized controlled studies will investigate the impact of health games based on principles of evaluative conditioning and impulse training on these automatic processes and adolescents’ eating behavior.