The main hypothesis of the TEMPEST project states that self-regulatory competence is a crucial
element in learning to deal with food temptations that are almost unavoidable in the modern environment.
This hypothesis will be examined in European countries that differ in the extent to which environmental interventions for the prevention of weight gain have been adopted and in the extent to which self-regulatory competence is valued and/or promoted.
The project has four major objectives:
The majority of European children and adolescents find themselves living in ‘obesogenic
environments’ characterized by a multitude of unhealthy and easily accessible temptations, which
have a profound impact on their dietary habits. This tempting environment is largely responsible for the dramatic increase in the number of overweight children and adolescents across Europe, making overweight one of the most important health issues in the European Union.
The possibilities to restrict such weight-threatening temptations are limited and, as such, these temptations place a great demand on youth’s self-regulatory competence; that is, their ability to regulate their behavior in the midst of competing options that challenge commitment to a personally relevant goal such as adopting healthy weight-related behaviors. Self-regulatory competence, which includes controlling one’s impulses for immediate gratification and planning for long-term goal pursuit, can greatly influence one’s ability to continue to strive for and achieve a healthy lifestyle in spite of the many temptations from the environment.
The TEMPEST research project aims to analyze both existing and novel incentive schemes for the prevention of overweight and highlights the role of self-regulatory competence as the key concept for explaining and beating the epidemic of overweight in European youth.
The primary aim of the TEMPEST project is to investigate to what extent the improvement of
self-regulatory competence will allow children and adolescents to better deal with unhealthy temptations in their environment. This approach places young individuals centre stage, thereby taking an alternative approach from traditional prevention programs which are generally aimed at making unhealthy temptations in the environment less available.
Such environmental interventions for regulating health behavior at a population level (e.g., by employing incentive schemes such as pricing of foods or banning products) hold great promise for a public health approach to the problem of overweight in youth, but so far they have had only modest success. The present project argues that positive effects of such environmental approaches are contingent upon how young people respond to such encouragements for altering their behavior.
The TEMPEST project aims to gain insight into the interplay of characteristics of the obesogenic
environment and the individual competencies of youth that may promote dealing with that
environment. Whereas the majority of research focuses on one of both aspects, either highlighting specific environmental features to encourage healthy choices or highlighting individual self-control strategies to withstand the temptation of unhealthy food, the central notion of the TEMPEST project states that we should include both components in order to understand and beat the epidemic of overweight amongst youth.
Specifically, after having completed the planned research we hope to demonstrate that self-regulatory competence plays a vital role in dealing with food temptations and that self-regulatory competence may be enhanced if young people have the opportunity to deal with their obesogenic food environments rather than banning food temptations from their environment which would prevent them from having experience with such temptations.
Results from the TEMPEST project may contribute to the development of innovative prevention strategies that support self-regulatory competence in the midst of plenty. To that purpose, national dissemination conferences with health professionals and policy makers are planned to discuss findings.
The national dissemination conferences that have already been organized proved very successful with a large audience that actively participated in discussing the options for innovative preventive strategies, based on the concept of environmental strategies supporting self-regulatory competence in youth.
Another option for the dissemination of results entails a handbook for parents, teachers and health professionals, familiarizing them with the concept of self-regulatory competence and ways to improve that competence in children and adolescents.