Binge eating is one type of eating issue that many adolescents and adults struggle with. It is believed that binge eating begins to develop in the early and preteen years. People who exhibit binge eating during their teen years are extremely vulnerable for the development of anorexia or bulimia as they age. According to the results of a recent study conducted by Carolyn M. Pearson of the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky, risk factors that lead to binge eating are evident in children who are still in elementary school, and this information could help clinicians identify children who are at risk for future unhealthy eating patterns.
Negative urgency is the tendency to act impulsively in order to avoid or diminish negative feelings and emotions. Children who have high levels of negative urgency are at risk for many different psychological and physical problems. To determine if this type of behavior is an indicator of future eating issues, Pearson evaluated 1,906 fifth grade students three separate times as they made the move from elementary school to middle school and into sixth grade. Pearson discovered that the children who began puberty at the end of fifth grade had the highest levels of negative urgency and binge eating. These same children also had risky eating expectations, increased binge eating episodes, and negative urgency that followed them into and through their first year in middle school.
Making the transition from elementary to middle school is a stressful and difficult time for many children. Those who physically develop before their peers due to early puberty may experience many negative feelings that cause them to engage in unhealthy coping strategies. Pearson believes that the results of this study clearly demonstrate that there are many factors that predict which children are at risk for eating issues and that if assessed properly, these children can be identified while still in elementary school and before they succumb to the pressures they feel in middle school. In sum, Pearson added, “It appears that risk for very early binge eating can be understood to result from transactional processes among biological experiences (pubertal onset), personality, and psychosocial learning.”
Pearson, C. M., Combs, J. L., Zapolski, T. C. B., & Smith, G. T. (2012). A longitudinal transactional risk model for early eating disorder onset. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027567
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