Trial on the Effect of Media Multi-tasking on Attention to Food Cues and Cued Overeating


Childhood obesity is a critical public health problem in the United States. One factor known to contribute to childhood obesity is excess consumption. Importantly, excess consumption related to weight gain is not necessarily driven by hunger. For example, environmental food cues stimulate brain reward regions and lead to overeating even after a child has eaten to satiety. This type of cued eating is associated with increased attention to food cues; the amount of time a child spends looking at food cues (e.g., food advertisements) is associated with increased caloric intake. However, individual susceptibility to environmental food cues remains unknown. It is proposed that the prevalent practice of media multi-tasking-simultaneously attending to multiple electronic media sources-increases attention to peripheral food cues in the environment and thereby plays an important role in the development of obesity. It is hypothesized that multi-tasking teaches children to engage in constant task switching that makes them more responsive to peripheral cues, many of which are potentially harmful (such as those that promote overeating). The overarching hypothesis is that media multi-tasking alters the attentional networks of the brain that control attention to environmental cues. High media multi-tasking children are therefore particularly susceptible to food cues, thereby leading to increased cued eating. It is also predicted that attention modification training can provide a protective effect against detrimental attentional processing caused multi-tasking, by increasing the proficiency of the attention networks. These hypotheses will be tested by assessing the pathway between media-multitasking, attention to food cues, and cued eating. It will also be examined whether it is possible to intervene on this pathway by piloting an at-home attention modification training intervention designed to reduce attention to food cues. It is our belief that this research will lead to the development of low-cost, scalable tools that can train attention networks so that children are less influenced by peripheral food cues, a known cause of overeating. For example, having children practice attention modification intervention tasks regularly (which could be accomplished through user-friendly computer games or cell phone/tablet apps) might offset the negative attentional effects of media multi-tasking.

Full Title of Study: “Media Multi-tasking and Cued Overeating: Assessing the Pathway and Piloting an Intervention Using an Attentional Network Framework”

Study Type

  • Study Type: Interventional
  • Study Design
    • Allocation: Randomized
    • Intervention Model: Crossover Assignment
    • Primary Purpose: Prevention
    • Masking: Single (Participant)
  • Study Primary Completion Date: April 2021

Detailed Description

[3/14/2020]: Study recruitment temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic


  • Behavioral: Sustained attention
    • participants will complete a sustained attention task
  • Behavioral: media multi-task
    • participants will complete multiple media tasks at the same time
  • Other: Video
    • participants will watch a video of media tasks being completed

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Active Comparator: Video
    • videos of media tasks being completed
  • Experimental: media multi-task
    • media tasks
  • Experimental: sustained attention task
    • a cognitive task that trains sustained attention

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Amount of time spent looking at food cues while playing a media game
    • Time Frame: approximately 15 minutes post-intervention
    • Eye-tracking will be used to measure the amount of time spent looking at static food cues while participants play a media game on the computer. The amount time spent looking at a food cue is a measure how much attention was given to the food cue. The longer the looking time, the greater amount of attention.
  • Amount of snack foods consumed post-intervention
    • Time Frame: approximately 30 minutes post-intervention
    • The amount of kcals consumed of snack foods after participants have completed the intervention.
  • Daily usual media multi-tasking
    • Time Frame: approximately 10 minutes prior to the intervention
    • This questionnaire measures the amount of media multi-tasking in a typical hour of media use, by asking respondents to report their interaction with 12 forms of media. The 12 different media forms are print media, television, computer-based video, music, non-musical audio, video or computer games, telephone and mobile phone, instant messaging, text messaging, email, web surfing, and other computer-based applications. For each activity, respondents indicate how often they concurrently use the other 11 media forms, using a 4-point scale: never (0), a little of the time (0.33), some of the time (0.67), and most of the time (1).

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Inclusion Criteria

  • N/A.

Exclusion Criteria

  • Inadequate English proficiency, a vision disorder that is not corrected with corrective lenses, and relevant food allergies.

Gender Eligibility: All

Minimum Age: 13 Years

Maximum Age: 17 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Collaborator
    • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Principal Investigator: Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Community and Family Medicine – Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Overall Official(s)
    • Diane Gilbert-Diamond, ScD, Principal Investigator, Dartmouth College


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