Internalizing Behaviors in Hispanic Boys Predict Overweight/Obese Status




Franks, Susan
Fulda, Kimberly
Habiba, Nusrath


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Background: Obesity has been a troubling trend among Hispanic youth. Emotional eating has been described as the consumption of comfort food to cope with negative emotions, which in turn can contribute to weight gain. Negative emotions can lead to internalizing (feeling worthless, sad, withdrawn) and externalizing (bullying, arguing, disobeying, stubbornness) behaviors. Studies suggest these may precede obesity in children with poor socioeconomic status. The aim of this study was to examine these behaviors in relation to weight in under served Hispanic children. Hypotheses: Overweight children (OW) will have higher internalizing or externalizing behaviors as compared to normal weight children (NW). Methods: Subjects included Hispanic youths (117 males, 116 females) ages 10-14. Subjects were classified into NW (n=85) and OW (n=148) based on BMI percentile. Parents completed a 1-5 Likert scale survey of social-emotional behaviors. Responses were summed to arrive at scores for Internalizing (INT) and Externalizing (EXT) behaviors. Relationships between INT, EXT, age, and BMI percentile were examined for boys and girls separately using Spearman correlation. Logistic regressions were conducted to ascertain the effects of significantly associated variables on the likelihood that subjects would be OW. Results: For boys, BMI percentile was associated with INT (rs=.180, p=.053) and age (rs=.215, p=.020). Girls showed no significant correlations. Logistic regression for boys using INT and age was significant (X2=10.570, p=.005). Increasing age in boys was significantly associated with an increased likelihood of being OW (OR= 1.439, CI=1.056 – 1.961). The Wald criterion indicated that increases in INT approached significance in predicting OW (p=.069). EXT was not significant for boys. Regression models for girls were not significant. Conclusion: Internalizing behaviors increased for boys who were overweight or obese, especially with increasing age. This trend was not significant in girls. These data contradict previous literature suggesting Hispanic girls are at higher risk for obesity due to increased internalizing behaviors. Future research should broaden the scope of internalizing behaviors that may place children at risk for obesity. Acknowledgments: This study was supported by intramural grants, and the study was approved by the IRB at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.