Emotional eating involves eating in response to states of arousal, such as anxiety and fear, and is associated with the development of obesity in children and adolescents. Dietary self-efficacy, or the degree to which a person believes they can change their eating behavior, has been inversely associated with emotional eating in college students. However, previous research has been limited by use of cross-sectional samples. The present study examines whether lower dietary self-efficacy predicts increased emotional eating at 6-month follow-up. The present study also investigates the moderating effect of adolescent weight status.
Adolescents ages 12-17 (N=41, M age=13.9 years, SD=1.8; 46.3% female) participated in a larger study examining risks for adolescent obesity. Adolescents completed measures assessing their dietary self-efficacy at baseline and their emotional eating at a 6-month follow-up appointment. Objective height and weight were used to calculate adolescent BMI percentile for age-and-gender (M=61.4, SD=30.5; 39% overweight or obese).
Adolescent dietary self-efficacy significantly predicted emotional eating after 6-months (β=-.485; p<0.05; R2=0.17), after controlling for the number of days between study visits. The relation between dietary self-efficacy and emotional eating was not significantly moderated by weight status (healthy weight vs. overweight/obese), (p=.96).
Results from this study suggest that adolescent dietary self-efficacy longitudinally predicts emotional eating and this association was not moderated by weight status. Within interventions for pediatric obesity, it may be important to consider targeting increasing adolescent self-efficacy for making behavioral changes. This in turn may decrease adolescent obesity promoting eating behaviors, like emotional eating, potentially preventing weight gain.