What Is Ecological Momentary Assessment For?


Childhood Obesity News is looking at Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA).
Part data-collection technique and part therapeutic modality, EMA is, consequently, adaptable to many situations.

These meaningful words are from a 2010 study:

EMA methods are particularly well-suited to studying drug use. Drug use itself is a discrete, episodic behavior that lends itself to event-oriented recording…

Moreover, many theories of drug use emphasize the role of the immediate situation in drug use, with emphasis on immediate internal experience (e.g., the user’s mood, craving, or withdrawal state) and external situational factors (e.g., the presence of the target substance, substance-related cues, social pressures to use)…

Theory has similarly emphasized the role of the acute effects of drugs (i.e., reinforcement, euphoria, relief of stress), which also lend themselves to momentary assessment.

Episodic; role of the immediate situation; mood, craving or withdrawal state; presence of the substance; triggering cues; social pressure; stress; the desire for euphoria… This all sounds very familiar. Everything the authors say about drug use is also true of eating disorders.

In 2006, Debbie S. Moskowitz and Simon N. Young wrote:

A review of the use of EMA methods in eating disorders concluded that patients are willing and able to engage in EMA studies, and the method makes it possible to collect data that could not be obtained with other study designs.

The authors noted that EMA methods had been used to help depressed adolescents and children, and they themselves studied patients with bulimia who “recorded their perceptions of social interactions, concurrent self-perceptions and moods, and eating behaviors after each social interaction for up to 22 days.”

A 2014 study declared in its Objective that the context of eating episodes in obesity is not well understood. The researchers went on to examine “emotional, physiological, and environmental correlates of pathological and nonpathological eating episodes.” Fifty adult subjects, mostly women, documented every episode of eating, along with the associated emotional, physiological and environmental conditions, for two weeks.

They were asked to distinguish between loss of control, binge eating, and nonpathological overeating. It turns out that loss of control and binge eating are more likely to be associated with emotional and physiological cues. The study authors wrote:

Results support distinctions among the different constructs characterizing aberrant eating and may be used to inform interventions for obesity and related eating pathology.

Many obesity professionals have made the comparison between hard drugs and food. While there may be debate over whether compulsive overeating is a substance addiction or a behavioral addiction, the important thing is, it behaves like an addiction and is shown to be responsive to methods that address addiction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) in Studies of Substance Use,” NIH.gov, December 2010
Source: “Ecological momentary assessment: what it is and why it is a method of the future in clinical psychopharmacology,” NIH.gov, January 2006
Source: “Ecological momentary assessment of eating episodes in obese adults,” NIH.gov, November 2014
Photo credit: Theo Crazzolara via Visualhunt/CC BY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources