Early Onset Puberty and Negative Urgency Predict Binge Eating in Children

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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  • Jeremiah


    March 23rd, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    This early onset of puberty can be disastrous for especially young girls. They are having all of these things going on with their bodies that they don’t understand, and it looks like some of them are then turning to food for consolation for how miserable this is making them feel. Where are the parents in this situation? These are the foks who need to try to guide them and reassure them that this is normal, that everything is going to be alright. But it seems like more and more parents are shirking this responsibility that they have to talk to their kids about puberty and the changes that they are undergoing, thereby leaving a whole generation of children totally unprepared for it.

  • Runninfast


    March 23rd, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    One thing that is key here is that these girls do not need to be ostracized and made fun of; neither do parents and teachers need to allow the young boys in their lives to ogle them either! This is hard enough on them without having these kinds of added pressures mixed in.

  • sara beth

    sara beth

    March 23rd, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    very sad that even in elementary school there are children who are having to run away from such overwhelming and negative things in their lives. how can you even look yourself in the mirror as an adult if you know that you are the one to cause them this urge of wanting to run away from their life experiences?

  • Karen


    March 24th, 2012 at 5:03 AM

    Adolescence is prime time for the development of most any eating disorder, so it is no surprise that this is the time when many young girls would start their battle with binge eating too.
    I guess they do it as a way to comfort themselves when all of these uncomfortable body issues begin to come up, or maybe they are trying to get a firm control for themselves over what their bodies are going to look like.
    Either way it is tragic when this goes unnoticed or untreated and they carry this abnormal behavior with them into adulthood along with the negative body image issues that they have.
    The even harder thing to accept is that not only are they harming their own bodies, but if left unchecked there is a great probability that they will pass the behavior along to their own daughters.

  • Nic0l3


    March 25th, 2012 at 6:13 AM

    While modern foods have cause more eating problems than before,what is encouraging is that most of these problems can be detected fairly early and this can help not only help the individual but maybe even prevent the full onset of the problem itself.

    Eating disorders are set to increase in the coming years and decades and any findings in this field could yield major dividends.

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