Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

Previous Page


Invited Symposium #356
CE Offered: PSY/BACB
Contributions of Behavior Analysis to the Study of Obesity
Monday, May 26, 2014
10:00 AM–11:50 AM
W178a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: SCI/CBM; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Erin B. Rasmussen (Idaho State University)
Discussant: Kelly M. Banna (Millersville University)
CE Instructor: Erin B. Rasmussen, Ph.D.

Researchers in the field of behavior analysis have contributed both applied and basic science internationally to the study of obesity. By focusing on the most critical behaviors--eating and physical activity--and the conditions under which they occur, treatment of this health risk becomes possible. Dr. Richard Fleming will begin by reviewing the role of behavior analysis in the obesity literature. Dr. Fergus Lowe and Dr. Pauline Horne will discuss the Food Dudes program, which has enhanced healthy food choices and physical activity with children in the United Kingdom and beyond. Dr. Matthew Normand will describe his programmatic work with measurement and change of physical activity in children. Finally, Dr. Erin Rasmussen will discuss the role of impulsive food choice in obesity in humans and using animal models.

Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): obesity, eating
Target Audience:

Basic and applied behavior analysts, parents, teachers, and anyone interested in behavior analysis, health, or obesity.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the workshop, participants should be able to (1) Describe some examples of behavior analytic contributions to the study of obesity; (2) Describe behavior analytic techniques that enhance healthy food choices with children and adults; and (3) Describe how to increase physical activity with obese populations.

Contributions of Behavior Analysis to Childhood Obesity Research: A Review and Example

RICHARD K. FLEMING (University of Massachusetts Boston)

Behavior analysis has influenced how researchers conceptualize, analyze, prevent, treat, and drive policy around childhood obesity. These contributions have appeared not only in traditional behavior analysis outlets, but also in (1) mainstream pediatrics and obesity journals, often in the form of randomized controlled trial (RCT) between-groups research; (2) the work of centers devoted to affecting food policy, notably the Rudd Center for Food Policy& Obesity); and (3) mass media publications, such as Scientific American. This paper reviews some of these contributions as a means of discussing a promising context for increasing the influence of behavior analysis. It also presents an example of the author's behavioral research on family-based weight loss and weight maintenance intervention with adolescents and young adults with intellectual disabilities (see Figure). Recommendations are made for future contributions of behavior analysis in the area of childhood obesity.

Richard Fleming received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1990. He then joined the Department of Psychology at Auburn University, where he was promoted to associate professor and received tenure. In 2000, Dr. Fleming returned to his native New England, where he was an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In 2012, he accepted his current position as associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Fleming's research addresses the translation and application of psychological principles to problems of social importance. Specializing in behavioral psychology, he has conducted numerous National Institutes of Health-funded studies that address the prevention and treatment of child and adolescent obesity, the promotion of physical activity and exercise, and media-driven online education, with particular emphasis on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Get Up and Go: How ABA Can Help Increase Exercise

RAYMOND G. MILTENBERGER (University of South Florida)

This presentation will discuss Dr. Miltenberger's recent research on promoting exercise and physical activity in children and adults. The talk will start with a discussion of accurate measurement of physical activity and then review studies evaluating behavioral procedures to increase physical activity. The research with children evaluated goal setting, contracting, daily rewards, and exergaming to increase physical activity. Research with adults evaluated an Internet-based program with and without behavioral coaching, goal setting and feedback, and daily action planning. Discussion will center on issues of measurement, treatment effectiveness, and treatment fidelity.

Dr. Raymond G. Miltenberger received his Ph.D. from Western Michigan University and currently is professor of psychology and director of the Applied Behavior Analysis Master's Program at the University of South Florida. He is the author of a highly regarded textbook on behavior modification, which is used at many universities across the country in both undergraduate and graduate courses. Dr. Miltenberger is most well known for having conducted a longstanding and systematic series of studies on clinical (habit) disorders, prevention of abduction, and firearms safety. In particular, his research in the latter two areas has been characterized by the highly creative use of simulations and generalization testing, and by the careful development of task-analysis-based instruction described as "behavioral skills training." In recognition of this work, he has received the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Applied Research from the American Psychological Association (Division 25), and he has served as president of ABAI.  

Toward a Functional Analysis of Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity in Children

MATTHEW P. NORMAND (University of the Pacific)

Physical activity, particularly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), is an important class of health-related behavior for children and adults. Insufficient physical activity is risk factor associated with a host of medical problems, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and, more generally, obesity. To mitigate these risks, current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization state that children should engage in at least 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Unfortunately, recent estimates suggest that few children are this active. Various behavioral interventions have been developed to increase physical activity in children, but with mixed results. Many such studies involve indirect measures of behavior change and, even when change seems evident, suffer from relatively poor long-term intervention effects. More systematic research involving direct measures of behavior is warranted. Moreover, the kinds of pre-intervention functional analyses common in the behavior analysis literature are notably absent from the physical activity literature, perhaps explaining, at least in part, the less than robust intervention effects sometimes reported. This talk will describe a programmatic line of research that begins with the validation of direct measurement strategies for MVPA, progresses to pre-intervention experimental analyses of the environmental variables functionally related to MVPA, and currently involves intervention evaluations based on the outcomes of the pre-intervention analyses. The results of these studies suggest that physical activity can be accurately measured, pre-intervention experimental analyses can be used to identify specific variables that promote MVPA, and that this information can be used to develop interventions to increase MVPA.

Dr. Matthew Normand is an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of the Pacific and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). His primary scientific interests, broadly defined, are the application of basic behavioral principles to problems of social significance (including obesity and community health issues), verbal behavior, and the philosophy of science. He has authored about three dozen scientific papers and book chapters and more than 100 conference presentations. He is the current editor of The Behavior Analyst, an associate editor for the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and serves on the editorial board of Behavioral Interventions. He is a former associate editor for the journals The Behavior Analyst, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, and Behavior Analysis in Practice. Dr. Normand is the 2011 recipient of the B. F. Skinner New Researcher Award from the American Psychological Association (Division 25).

Obesity, Impulsive Choice for Food, and the Role of Dopamine

ERIN B. RASMUSSEN (Idaho State University)

A pattern of choosing smaller, sooner rewards over larger, later rewards is known as impulsive choice and is an established behavioral mechanism in a variety of putative "addictive" behaviors, including substance abuse and gambling. This model has been applied to understanding food-choice patterns involved in obesity with humans and with rodent models. The talk will present some human and animal data that suggest that dopaminergic processes, particularly those at the D2 receptor subtype, may underlie impulsive food choices. These data suggest, one, that impulsive choice patterns as a behavioral mechanism of addictive behaviors can be extended to obesity, and two, that dopamine may be involved in these processes.

Erin Rasmussen received her Ph.D. from Auburn University in experimental analysis of behavior with an emphasis in behavioral toxicology and pharmacology. She is currently a professor of psychology at Idaho State University, where, in her 9.5 years there helped build a new Ph.D. program in experimental psychology. She conducts research on the behavioral economics and behavioral pharmacology of food and exercise reinforcement using animal models of obesity and humans, with special emphasis on the endocannabinoid, opioid, and dopaminergic neurotransmitter systems. Her recent work has been published in journals including the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Physiology and Behavior, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Behavioral Brain Research, Behavioral Pharmacology, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, Behavioural Processes, and Behaviour Research & Therapy. She currently serves on the editorial board for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and the ABAI Science Board. She also served as president of Four Corners Association for Behavior Analysis and as the program chair for the Southeastern Association for Behavior Analysis.



Back to Top
Modifed by Eddie Soh