Priming food intake with weight control cues: systematic review with a meta-analysis

Nicola J. Buckland, Vanessa Er, Ian Redpath, Kristine Beaulieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
415 Downloads (Pure)


A growing number of studies suggest that exposure to cues which are associated with weight control can prime or prompt controlled food intake in tempting food environments. However, findings are mixed and understanding which types of cues and for whom such cues may be most effective is needed to inform subsequent research and societal applications. A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted to evaluate the effects of exposure to weight control cues compared with control cues on food intake.

PsycINFO, Medline, Embase and Web of Science were searched using key terms. Hedge’s g was used to calculate effect sizes based on mean food intake, standard deviations and sample sizes extracted from relevant publications and, a random effects model was used for the meta-analysis.

Twenty-five articles consisting of 26 studies were eligible. Data from 25 studies (31 effect sizes) were available for the meta-analysis. Overall, weight control cues reduced food intake, albeit to a trivial effect (ES: -0.149, 95% CI: -0.271 to − 0.027). Subgroup analyses when studies which induced negative affect were removed showed that for individuals with strong weight control goals the effect was small-to-moderate (ES: -0.440, 95% CI: -0.718 to − 0.163), whereas for individuals with weak weight control goals this effect was trivial and non-significant (ES: 0.014, 95% CI: -0.249 to 0.278). Cue type and level of engagement did not significantly moderate the effect; however, specific cues (low-calorie foods and thin models) and attended engagement yielded significant effects. Caution is needed interpreting these findings as most studies were rated with high risk of bias and a number of studies could not be included in the subgroup analyses.

Based on the data available, weight control cues reduce food intake in individuals with strong weight control goals. Further research is needed to explore longer term effects of cue exposure and confirm underlying mechanisms. PROSPERO registry#CRD42016052396.

Food intake ; Goal priming ; Weight control goals ; Systematic review ; Meta-analysis
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2018


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