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




Franks, Susan
Williams, Trevor
Goyer, Alexandria
Muzaffar, Omair
Fulda, Kimberly


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Purpose: The concept that emotion strongly influences eating, referred to as “emotional eating” (EE), recently gained interest. Previous evidence suggested that overeating by overweight individuals reduces anxiety. The obesity literature indicated EE significantly differentiates obese from normal weight individuals. However, little is known about what other factors contribute to EE. This study aims to better understand risk factors that might be associated with EE. We anticipated that people with higher EE would be more likely to have family histories of anxiety or obesity, and would have more anxiety and stress, poorer coping skills, and higher BMI than people with lower EE. Methods: Participants included adult men and women (n=97) with an average age of 30.78 years (sd=12.86) and an average BMI of 25.19 kg/m2(sd=5.69). 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 higher and lower EE based on a mean split. Chi-square analysis was used to analyze differences in EE for FH of obesity and FH of anxiety. T-tests were used to analyze differences between high and low EE for ANX, STR, COP, and BMI. Results: FH of obesity differed significantly by EE(x2=.009). Among high EE, 46.7% had a FH of obesity whereas among low EE 27.9% had a FH of obesity. FH of anxiety differed significantly by EE (x2=.045). Among high EE, 47.8% had a FH of anxiety whereas among low EE 28.0% had a FH of anxiety. When comparing individuals with high and low EE, state anxiety was higher for high EE (mean=36.09, sd=10.47) as compared to low EE (mean=31.28, sd=9.24) (t=2.41, p=.018). Stress was higher for high EE (mean=12.72, sd=3.11) as compared to low EE (mean=13.92, sd=2.89) (t= -1.98, p=.051). Coping was lower for high EE (mean=78.24, sd=8.57) as compared to low EE (mean=82.90, sd=9.21) (t= -2.57, p=.012). BMI was higher for high EE (mean=26.52, sd=7.02) as compared to low EE (mean=23.99, sd=3.87) (t= 2.22, p=.029). Conclusions: EE is 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 may be emotional eaters and provide targeted interventions in order to prevent obesity and promote weight loss.