Family-based treatment for pediatric obesity (FBT) focuses on behavioral principles such as self-monitoring and positive reinforcement, but largely ignores the impact of emotions on eating behaviors. Emotions have been shown to influence eating from an early age (Goossens et al., 2009). Furthermore, whether emotional eating is driven by emotion dysregulation or modeling behaviors of parents remains largely unexplored.


The present study is a secondary data analysis of baseline data from an FBT program, comprised of 119 parents (mean age=42.8, 87.5% female, 90.0% with OB/OW) and their child with OW/OB (mean age=9.9, zBMI=2.03, 65% female, 29% Hispanic). Parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist Anxious/Depressed subscale (CBCL) and the Eating in the Absence of Hunger Questionnaire negative affect subscale for both themselves and their child (EAHQ-P; EAHQ-C).


Multiple regression analysis controlling for child age, sex, and ethnicity revealed a significant effect of children’s anxiety/depression symptoms on the CBCL and children’s eating in the absence of hunger in response to negative affect on the EAHQ-C (B=0.29, p=0.001). Significant effects were also found between children’s and parent emotional eating in the absence of hunger (B= 0.57, p<0.001), controlling for covariates.


These findings suggest parent’s eating behaviors in the absence of huger and children’s anxiety depression symptoms may be independent factors influencing children’s emotional eating in the absence of hunger. Future studies should continue to examine the association between symptoms of anxiety and depression and appetitive behaviors in the absence of hunger and evaluate how to incorporate targeting emotions within current FBT models.