Appetitive control is driven by the hedonic response to food and affected by several factors. Heart rate variability (HRV) signals have been used to index autonomic activity and arousal levels towards visual stimuli. The current research aimed to examine the influence of body mass index (BMI), disordered eating behaviors, and sex on the HRV reactivity to food in a nonclinical sample. Thirty-eight healthy male and sixty-one healthy female participants completed questionnaires assessing disordered eating symptoms. HRV was recorded when the participants received visual stimuli of high-calorie food, neutral and negative emotional signals. Generalized estimating equation models were used to investigate the associations between HRV, BMI, disordered eating behaviors, and sex across the three stimulus types. Male participants demonstrated a higher ratio of low-frequency power to high-frequency power (LF/HF) than females across all the stimulus types. An increase in LF/HF reactivity to food signals was observed in all the study subjects. The moderation effect of BMI on LF/HF in response to food signals was also observed. Our study suggests that body weight may play a role in the interaction between sympathetic activity and food stimuli; however, how the interaction between sympathetic activity and food stimuli contributes to diet control warrants further investigation.
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