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Appetite. 2013 Mar;62:103-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.11.020. Epub 2012 Dec 2.

Preschool children with lower executive function may be more vulnerable to emotional-based eating in the absence of hunger.

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University of California Davis, Department of Nutrition, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, United States.


Decreased executive function (EF) has been linked to unhealthy eating behaviors and obesity in older children and adults, however little is known about this relationship in young children. One possible reason for this association is that individuals with degraded EF are more vulnerable to emotional-based overeating. Emotional eating may thus be more likely to occur in persons with lower self-control or ability to regulate emotions. A pilot project in a research-based preschool was conducted to examine the relationships between executive function, emotional arousal and eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) in 3-6year-old children. Executive function was measured through child-completed tasks, parent questionnaires, and standardized teacher reports. Emotional arousal was measured via skin conductance. Children who had lower cognitive development scores as indicated by teacher reports had higher EAH. Increased emotional arousal was associated with increased EAH, but only in a subgroup of children who had a lower capacity for emotional regulation as suggested by lower delay of gratification scores, lower effortful control (parent questionnaire), and overall lower teacher-reported cognitive development. Further studies are necessary to determine whether interventions to improve executive function and emotional regulation in young children may also have the benefit of improving eating behaviors and decreasing risk of obesity in the long run.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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