Eating in response to distress--i.e. emotional eating--is highly prevalent in (female) adults with binge eating, but has only a very low prevalence in young children. The present study addresses the emergence of emotional eating in adolescence in relation to depressive feelings. Because a reduction of food intake is considered the biologically natural response to distress, we tested whether the a-typical stress-response of emotional eating develops in interaction with genetic vulnerability. We hypothesized that the short allele of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene, which is associated with lower serotonin activity, would moderate the relation between depressive feelings and the increase in emotional eating, particularly in females. A sample of Dutch families with two adolescents was included in a longitudinal study with a four-year follow-up. A moderator effect of 5-HTTLPR genotype on the relation between depressive feelings and the increase in emotional eating was found in both sexes in the youngest siblings (n = 286). In the older siblings (n = 298), this specific moderator effect was only found in the girls. Younger adolescents and older adolescent girls showed a higher increase in emotional eating if they carried the 5-HTTLPR short allele. This is the first study that found support for a gene × depressive feelings interaction on emergence of emotional eating in (female) adolescents.
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