Implications of life-history strategies for obesity [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
The association between low socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity is well documented. In the current research, a life history theory (LHT) framework provided an explanation for this association. Derived from evolutionary behavioral science, LHT emphasizes how variability in exposure to unpredictability during childhood gives rise to individual differences in a range of social psychological processes across the life course. Consistent with previous LHT research, the current findings suggest that exposure to unpredictability during childhood (a characteristic common to low SES environments) is associated with the adoption of a fast life-history strategy, one marked by impulsivity and a focus on short-term goals. We demonstrate that a fast life-history strategy, in turn, was associated with dysregulated weight-management behaviors (i.e., eating even in the absence of hunger), which were predictive of having a high body mass index (BMI) and being obese. In both studies, findings held while controlling for participants’ current socioeconomic status, suggesting that obesity is rooted in childhood experiences. A serial mediation model in study 2 confirmed that effects of childhood SES on adult BMI and obesity can be explained in part by exposure to unpredictability, the adoption of a fast life-history strategy, and dysregulated-eating behaviors. These findings suggest that weight problems in adulthood may be rooted partially in early childhood exposure to unpredictable events and environments. LHT provides a valuable explanatory framework for understanding the root causes of obesity.
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