Social anxiety and disordered overeating: an association among overweight and obese individuals

Eat Behav. 2013 Apr;14(2):145-8. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.01.009. Epub 2013 Feb 8.


Objective: The study objectives were to evaluate the relationship between social anxiety, binge eating, and emotional eating in overweight and obese individuals and to evaluate the relationship between weight and social anxiety.

Methods: Using an internet based survey, overweight and obese men and women (n=231; mean age=36.0±12.8; mean BMI=33.7 kg/m(2)±6.7) completed several self-report measures including: social anxiety, social physique anxiety, binge eating, and emotional eating. The relationships among variables were evaluated using Spearman's correlations, ANOVAs, and linear and logistic regression equations.

Results: Clinically significant levels of social anxiety were reported in 59% of participants, and binge eating disorder criteria were met by 13%. Social anxiety was significantly associated with binge eating (r=.36; OR=1.06, CI=1.02-1.10) and emotional eating (r=.46; β=0.36), but was not associated with restrained eating. The association between social physique anxiety and emotional and binge eating did not remain significant in regression equations. BMI was associated with binge eating (r=.19) but not emotional eating. Level of social anxiety was not significantly higher among extremely obese participants, compared to overweight and obese participants.

Conclusions: In this study, social anxiety was associated with binge eating and emotional eating in overweight and obese men and women. When appropriate, interventions could address social anxiety as a barrier to normative eating patterns and weight loss.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bulimia / epidemiology*
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / epidemiology*
  • Hyperphagia / psychology
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult