Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Impulsivity is a key trait to weight gain

Madi Beavers

Impulsive people may find it harder to control weight gain, according to a UT Dallas study.

Francesca Filbey, UTD brain and behavioral sciences professor at the Center for BrainHealth, discovered that having an impulsive mind plays a significant role in weight gain in many individuals. 

The study used data from 35 subjects between the ages of 22 and 43. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese, and the average BMI was 30.7, according to the study. In order to determine impulsivity, participants filled out a survey and underwent psychological testing and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

fMRI monitors blood flow in the brain, which helps identify areas in the brain that react to outside stimuli.

“fMRI allows us to see changes in blood oxygen levels, which is a marker for brain activation in real time,” Filbey said. “The resolution of this technique allows us to better identify the regions of the brain associated with cognitive processes.” 

Filbey said the results of these tests could potentially help create obesity treatments that incorporate self-control measures. Weight loss programs can help their patients by teaching them to manage impulsive behaviors.

Paul von Hippel, a UT Austin public affairs professor who studies childhood obesity and was not a part of the study, said the rising U.S. obesity problem could be influenced by food advertising.

“People might benefit from therapy to help them control their impulses. But I don’t think that’s why the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has doubled, from 15 to 30 percent, since 1980,” von Hippel said. “What’s changed since 1980 is not that people have become more impulsive and susceptible to temptation, but that the food industry has grown more effective at tempting us.” 

Training oneself to completely avoid poor food choices may be the best possible route to take when trying to eat healthier, von Hippel said.

“If you’re the kind of person who can’t see a cookie without eating it, as I am, then you can try and train yourself to resist,” he said. “But it’s easier, and more effective, just not to keep cookies in the house.”

An impulsive mindset demands more attention and an in-depth thought process to escape unwanted outcomes, Filbey said. 

“The takeaway is that impulsivity plays a big role in obesity and being overweight,” she said.  “However, the inherent personality trait of impulsivity is the key in the association between changes in brain function and problems with one’s weight.” 

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Impulsivity is a key trait to weight gain