The SNAPSHOT study protocol: SNAcking, Physical activity, Self-regulation, and Heart rate Over Time

David McMinn, Julia L Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


The cognitive processes responsible for effortful behavioural regulation are known as the executive functions, and are implicated in several factors associated with behaviour control, including focussing on tasks, resisting temptations, planning future actions, and inhibiting prepotent responses. Similar to muscles, the executive functions become fatigued following intensive use (e.g. stressful situations, when tired or busy, and when regulating behaviour such as quitting smoking). Therefore, an individual may be more susceptible to engaging in unhealthy behaviours when their executive functions are depleted. In the present study we investigate associations between the executive functions, snack food consumption, and sedentary behaviour in real time. We hypothesise that individuals may be more susceptible to unhealthy snacking and sedentary behaviours during periods when their executive functions are depleted. We test this hypothesis using real-time objective within-person measurements.

A sample of approximately 50 Scottish adults from varied socio-economic, working, and cultural backgrounds will participate in the three phases of the SNAcking, Physical activity, Self-regulation, and Heart rate Over Time (SNAPSHOT) study. Phase one will require participants to complete home-based questionnaires concerned with diet, eating behaviour, and physical activity (≈1.5 hours to complete). Phase two will constitute a 2-3 hour psychological laboratory testing session during which trait-level executive function, general intelligence, and diet and physical activity intentions, past behaviour, and automaticity will be measured. The final phase will involve a 7-day ambulatory protocol during which objective repeated assessments of executive function, snacking behaviour, physical activity, mood, heart rate, perceived energy level, current context and location will be measured during participants’ daily routines. Multi-level regression analysis, accounting for observations nested within participants, will be used to investigate associations between fluctuations in the executive functions and health behaviours.

Data from the SNAPSHOT study will provide ecologically valid information to help better understand the temporal associations between self-regulatory resources (executive functions) and deleterious health behaviours such as snacking and sedentary behaviour. If we can identify particular periods of the day or locations where self-regulatory resources become depleted and produce suboptimal health behaviour, then interventions can be designed and targeted accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1006
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2014


  • snack
  • food choice
  • executive function
  • self regulation
  • intentions
  • physical activity
  • ecological momentary assessment
  • accelerometer
  • GPS
  • PRO-Diary
  • Actiheart


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