Weight status moderates stress-eating in the absence of hunger associations in children

Alison L. Miller, Sarah Domoff, Hurley Riley, Ashley N. Gearhardt, Julie Sturza, Niko Kaciroti, Julie C. Lumeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


Objective: The association between stress and eating remains unclear in children potentially due to factors that may moderate the association. We examined whether weight status or sex moderated associations between response to a stress induction and eating in the absence of hunger (EAH), among low-income children. Method: Children (n = 223; M age = 7.8 years, SD = 0.7 years) participated in a stress induction protocol (modified Trier Social Stress Test for Children [TSST-C]) during which behavioral coding of observed anxiety and change in self-reported distress were measured. Afterwards, participants completed a standardized EAH protocol where they were offered palatable foods. Total kilocalories consumed during the EAH protocol was calculated. Weight and height were measured and weight status calculated as overweight (BMI ≥ 85th percentile for age and sex) vs. not overweight. Multivariate linear regression models adjusting for covariates were conducted to test whether child weight status or sex moderated the stress response-EAH association, for both stress response variables. Results: Weight status moderated the association between observed stress response and EAH such that children with overweight engaged in more EAH as observed anxiety increased, whereas children without overweight engaged in less EAH as observed anxiety increased (β interaction = 0.48; p = .010). Weight status did not moderate associations between self-reported distress and EAH. Child sex was not a significant moderator. Conclusions: After exposure to stress, children with overweight in middle childhood may eat more palatable food compared to children without overweight, possibly due to hypersensitization to food cues or weight stigma experienced by youth with overweight. It may be helpful to encourage youth with overweight to engage in stress-management techniques that do not involve eating as a response to stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-192
Number of pages9
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Eating behavior
  • Eating behavior
  • Eating in the absence of hunger
  • Eating in the absence of hunger
  • Observational study
  • Observed anxiety
  • Overweight
  • Overweight
  • Stress induction
  • Stress induction


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