Personal, Psychological, and Family History Risk Factors for Emotional Eating Related to Obesity (2017)




Franks, Susan
Mandy, Fanni
Lee, Michelle
Fulda, Kimberly


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Background: The concept that emotion strongly influences eating, referred to as “emotional eating” (EE), recently gained considerable interest in research. Previous evidence suggested that overeating by overweight individuals reduces anxiety and drives hyperphagia leading to obesity. The obesity literature indicated EE significantly differentiates obese from normal weight women. However, little is known about what other factors may contribute to EE. This exploratory study aims to better understand personal, psychological, and family history factors that might be associated with EE. Factors explored included gender, weight class, coping (COP), anxiety (ANX), stress (STR), and family histories (FH) of obesity and anxiety. Methods: Participants included adult men and women (n=59) with an average age of 31.38 years (sd=12.24) and an average BMI of 24.60 kg/m2 (sd=5.44). Self-report surveys included demographics, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to measure state ANX and the Eating and Appraisal Due to Emotions and Stress to measure STR, EE, and COP. Subjects were categorized into high and low EE based on standard error distance from the median. Chi square analyses were used to compare high and low EE with gender, weight class, FH of obesity, and FH of anxiety. T-tests were used to analyze differences between high and low EE for COP and STR. Results: EE was greater among women (n=14, 70.0%) than men (n=3, 21.4%), p=005. EE was greater with a FH of obesity (n=7, 77.8%) as compared to subjects without a FH (n=9, 37.5%), (p=.039). EE was greater among subjects with a FH of anxiety (n=10, 71.4%) as compared to subjects without a FH (n=7, 36.8%), p=.049. Coping was lower for subjects with higher EE (mean=80.00) as compared to subjects with lower EE (mean=84.94), p=.050. Anxiety was higher for subjects with higher EE (mean=36.13) as compared to subjects with lower EE (mean=29.06), p=.027. There were no differences in EE for weight class or recent stress. Conclusions: Women appear to be more at risk for EE than men. EE is also more likely with higher anxiety and poor coping skills. Additionally a FH of obesity or anxiety appears to put individuals at risk for EE. Clinicians should be aware of the factors related to EE in order to identify patients who are at risk and provide targeted interventions in order to prevent obesity and promote weight loss. Acknowledgement: Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R25HL125447 to Dr. J.K. Vishwanatha. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.