Does self-control affect interventions to change alcohol, tobacco, and food consumption?

Self-control has been consistently linked with unhealthy consumption. People with lower self-control tend to drink more, smoke more, and eat more unhealthy food. Low self-control might also influence the success of interventions that aim to change these behaviours.

We conducted a systematic review to assess whether individual differences in self-control influence the effectiveness of interventions to change alcohol, tobacco, and food consumption. 54 studies were included in the review.

Our findings, published in Health Psychology Review, show that 22 studies (41%) did not report differences in intervention effectiveness by self-control, 18 (33%) reported interventions to be less effective in those with low self-control, and 14 (26%) reported interventions to be more effective in those with low self-control. This pattern of findings did not differ from chance.

We did not find notable differences in outcomes when comparing studies that used different methods to assess self-control (such as self-report questionnaires or behavioural tasks), or when comparing interventions that targeted reflective psychological processes, such as providing nutritional information about certain foods, with those that targeted non-reflective processes, for instance by changing associative responses to unhealthy cues.

So, whilst self-control often influenced intervention outcomes, there was no consistent pattern of effects. We also found an evidence gap regarding whether self-control influences interventions that focus on changing physical and economic environments. This may provide a fruitful topic for future research.

Does self-control modify the impact of interventions to change alcohol, tobacco, and food consumption? A systematic review. Stautz K, Zupan Z, Field M. Marteau TM

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