Why Do Our Children Eat Too Much?

Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the United States. More children are obese now than ever before. This puts them at risk for numerous negative psychological and physical health outcomes. Obese children are more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-obese peers. They also have higher levels of anxiety, depression, and sadness. Additionally, obesity can increase the risk for health problems such as cardiac disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Understanding the factors that predict unhealthy eating behaviors in children is essential for combating this national crisis that is affecting the future of our country.

Anna Vannucci of the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology and the Program in Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland wanted to find out if eating behaviors, specifically, emotional eating or eating in the absence of hunger, could be linked to psychological issues that when coupled together, increase the risk for obesity. Vannucci assessed 411 children between the ages of 8 and 18 and looked at their patterns of disinhibited eating. She looked at both objective and subjective binge eating (OBE, SBE), emotional eating (EE), eating absent of being hungry (EAH), a combination of EE and EAH, and non-disinhibited eating behavior (No-DE). Vannucci recorded the behaviors of the participants before they ate two separate meals.

She found that only 64 of the participants fell into the No-DE group. Nearly half of the participants, or 172 of them, were categorized as EE-EAH. The remaining three groups, OBE, SBE and EE, were made up of approximately 55 participants each. Vannucci discovered that SBE and OBE participants had more trait anxiety and disordered eating behaviors than the other groups. These groups, as well as the EE group, also had the highest levels of depression. She also found that OBE and SBE participants ate more carbohydrates than protein while the SBE ate the lowest amount of calories in all. However, they had the highest fat mass percentage of all the groups. Overall, Vannucci believes that her findings show that EAH alone is not cause for alarm and may not increase risk for obesity. However, when coupled with EE it could pose a significant risk. “Additionally,” said Vannucci, “High levels of emotional eating alone may signal depressive symptomatology and a unique eating pattern.”

Vannucci, A., Tanofsky-Kraff, M., Crosby, R. D., Ranzenhofer, L. M., Shomaker, L. B., Field, S. E., Mooreville, M., Reina, S. A., Kozlosky, M., Yanovski, S. Z., and Yanovski, J. A. (2012). Latent profile analysis to determine the typology of disinhibited eating behaviors in children and adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031209

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  • Brad


    January 26th, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    How about this- it’s because we give kids too much control over things like their diet and eating patterns, and they are not equipped to handle big important decisions like that yet.

  • Gabriel


    January 27th, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    Fast food is one thing that is best not introduced to children at all. Not only do these foods cause obesity and other problems that follow but they can also disrupt the regular diet. Food is not tasty anymore because they want fast food, and when they do eat that it is consumed in quantities larger than needed. Its like an epidemic that is surrounding our nation a major problem that is best handled as soon as possible.

  • Chase


    January 28th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    Emotional eating is something that reaches across all spectrums of society, and I find that the more kids are left to fend for themselves then maybe the more they are eating to try to fill a void in their lives that is not being filled at home.
    maybe they are home alone a lot, or have parents who are distant, or they are struggling at school. Whatever the reason it usually leads to some eating habits that are not healthy for them.
    Parents and teachers alike should be a little more vigialnt about this than in the past, as childhood obesity is such a problem today and we can’t afford to throw away another generation to this epidemic.

  • sylvia


    January 28th, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    kids learn what they see us doing..a lot of us have this problem of emotional eating or eating too much in front of the television or while being deep in work mode.. they pick this up easily.in addition if they are heavily reliant of unhealthy food that just pushes up the threat levels a few notches.. best to teach our kids the habits of healthy eating as quickly in their lives as we can.

  • mabel


    January 28th, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Well of course emotional eating and eating in the absence of hunger is going to lead to obsesity. The question should be how we can reduce and stop this in our children. What should be the coping strategies to be used for kids who indulge in food in order to cope.

    Not only is this a childhood obesity problem but will also lead to a situation wherein more and more of these kids grow up to require healthcare thereby straining our healthcare system. Insurance premiums will go up and healthcare will become costlier. All at a time when our debt is mounting, sometimes I have nightmares about our country’s future.

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