Emotional eating refers to eating in response to a range of negative emotions, including coping with anxiety, depression, anger, and loneliness (Faith, Allison, & Geliebter, 1997). Emotional eating is relatively common in overweight youths. One study of 55 overweight children (ages 5-13) seeking weight loss treatment found that 63% endorsed the question “Do you ever eat because you feel bad, sad, bored, or any other mood?” (Shapiro et al., 2007). Emotional eating is also associated with LOC eating (Tanofsky-Kraff, 2008). In adolescents, emotional eating is associated with disturbed eating and symptoms of depression and anxiety (Van Strien, Engels, Van Leeuwe, & Snoek, 2005). Studies investigating the relationships between negative mood and LOC eating using laboratory feeding paradigms or ecological momentary assessment have produced mixed results. Some studies have shown that negative affect is associated with a greater likelihood of reporting LOC (Goldschmidt, Tanofsky-Kraff, & Wilfley, 2011), whereas other studies have not supported the relationship between negative mood and LOC (Hilbert et al. 2009; Hilbert, Tuschen-Caffier, & Czaja, 2010). Furthermore, laboratory studies evaluating the association between negative affect and EAH do not support the relationship between negative mood and EAH (Aranda, Swift, & Boutelle, 2011). Longitudinal data have suggested that negative affect predicts binge eating in youths (Stice & Agras, 1998). However, longitudinal, prospective data are needed to determine whether there is, indeed, a predictive relationship between emotional eating and excessive weight gain.
In summary, obesity and aberrant eating patterns in youths are common and are associated with negative physiological and psychological outcomes. Many of these concepts are interrelated and may in fact overlap because researchers are only beginning to uncover these behaviors in youths. For example, parents often report that children who exhibit EAH also engage in a lot of secretive eating. These behaviors may possibly be more appropriately construed as dimensions of early eating disturbances as opposed to discrete categories.