Eating disorders and psychopathological traits in obese preadolescents and adolescents

J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(2):142-9. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.938182. Epub 2015 Mar 9.


Objective: to investigate the presence of eating disorders (ED) and psychopathological traits in obese preadolescents and adolescents compared to normal-weight peers.

Design: Overweight/obese patients aged 11 to 14 y and normal-weight peers' data collected by means of self-report questionnaires administered to parents and children.

Setting: Clinical Nutrition Units in the Municipalities of Rome, Naples, Gallipoli and Atri, Italy.

Subjects: 376 preadolescents and adolescents. Patients were 187 (93 boys, BMI=27.9±;4.1; 94 girls, BMI=28.1±4.5); normal-weight controls were 189 subjects (94 boys, BMI=19.4±1.4; 95 girls, BMI=19.5±1.5).

Measures of outcome: eating disorder behaviors, psychopathological traits and symptoms estimated by means of the eating disorders scales (EDI-2) and psychopathological scales (CBCL 4-18).

Results: Patients reached higher scores than controls in most of the eating disorders scales and psychopathological scales. Twenty-one (11.2%) patients were considered at risk of developing an eating disorder and 75 (40%) presented social problems. With regard to weight status, age-group and gender, main significant interaction effects were seen in social problems (F= 6.50; p<0.05) and ineffectiveness (F= 4.15; p<0.05).

Conclusions: Findings from our study demonstrate that in preadolescence and adolescence, obesity is significantly associated to some traits typical of ED and to psychological problems in general. Although no inference can be made with regard to direction of causality, it is possible to conclude that overweight preadolescents and adolescents can be prone to display problematic traits more commonly associated to eating disorders and to present a high degree of mental distress.

Keywords: childhood and adolescent obesity; eating disorders; psychopathological symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Parents
  • Pediatric Obesity / complications
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Self Report
  • Social Behavior