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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Environmental influences on energy balance-related behaviors: A dual-process view

Stef PJ Kremers1*, Gert-Jan de Bruijn1, Tommy LS Visscher23, Willem van Mechelen4, Nanne K de Vries1 and Johannes Brug5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Education and Health Promotion, University of Maastricht, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

2 Department of Nutrition and Health, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 National Institute of Public health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands

4 Department of Public and Occupational Health and Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

5 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2006, 3:9  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-3-9

Published: 15 May 2006

Abstract

Background

Studies on the impact of the 'obesogenic' environment have often used non-theoretical approaches. In this journal's debate and in other papers authors have argued the necessity of formulating conceptual models for differentiating the causal role of environmental influences on behavior.

Discussion

The present paper aims to contribute to the debate by presenting a dual-process view on the environment – behavior relationship. This view is conceptualized in the EnRG framework (Environmental Research framework for weight Gain prevention). In the framework, behavior is postulated to be the result of a simultaneous influence of conscious and unconscious processes. Environmental influences are hypothesized to influence behavior both indirectly and directly. The indirect causal mechanism reflects the mediating role of behavior-specific cognitions in the influence of the environment on behavior. A direct influence reflects the automatic, unconscious, influence of the environment on behavior. Specific personal and behavioral factors are postulated to moderate the causal path (i.e., inducing either the automatic or the cognitively mediated environment – behavior relation). In addition, the EnRG framework applies an energy balance-approach, stimulating the integrated study of determinants of diet and physical activity.

Conclusion

The application of a dual-process view may guide research towards causal mechanisms linking specific environmental features with energy balance-related behaviors in distinct populations. The present paper is hoped to contribute to the evolution of a paradigm that may help to disentangle the role of 'obesogenic' environmental factors.