Temporal discounting does not influence Body Mass Index

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Description: The prevalence of obesity has driven searches for cognitive or behavioural economic factors related to Body Mass Index (BMI). One compelling candidate is delay discounting: those who prefer smaller sooner rewards over larger but later rewards are hypothesised to have higher BMI. The findings in the literature are mixed however, with meta analyses suggesting only a very small correlation between discounting and BMI. Here we present novel empirical data (N=381) and Bayesian analyses which suggest no such relationship between discounting of either monetary or weight loss rewards and BMI. We also find evidence against our novel proposal that discounting moderates the rate of BMI gain over time. We also present our data in the context of a random effects Bayesian meta-analytical result which does suggest the presence of a small correlation overall. The strength of the correlation is so weak (2.25% shared variance) that its practical significance may be minor to non existent. However because we found decisive evidence for unaccounted for study-level variance, due to study heterogeneity, we argue that we should treat such meta-analytic correlations with extreme caution. While the relationship between discounting and health outcomes such as BMI remain theoretically appealing, our empirical and meta-analytic results suggest we should be cautious in inferring a correlational, let alone a causal, role for discounting processes in driving BMI or moderating BMI gain with age.

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