Difficulties with executive functioning may underlie both overweight and loss of control (LOC) eating behavior across the age spectrum, but there is a relative paucity of research in children with both conditions. This study aimed to characterize general executive functioning among children with overweight and LOC eating as compared to their overweight and normal-weight peers. Participants were 75 racially diverse children (58.7% female; 81.3% African-American), aged 9-12y (M age = 10.5 ± 1.1), of whom 26 were overweight/obese and endorsed LOC eating (OW-LOC), 34 were overweight controls (OW-CON), and 15 were normal-weight controls (NW-CON). All children completed interview-based measures of eating pathology, and behavioral measures of executive functioning. Parents reported on behavioral facets of children's executive functioning. Groups were compared across parent-report measures and behavioral tasks using analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) and multivariate analyses of covariance (MANCOVAs) which adjusted for general intellectual functioning. Significant group differences were revealed on a behavioral measure of planning, the Tower of London task [F (5,65) = 3.52; p = 0.007], and a behavioral measure of working memory, the List Sorting task [F (2,71) = 6.45; p = 0.003]. Post-hoc tests revealed that OW-LOC and OW-CON performed worse than NW-CON on the Tower of London, with relative decrements in accuracy rather than performance time. Further, OW-LOC performed worse than both OW-CON and NW-CON on the List Sorting task. Overweight with or without concomitant LOC eating in children may characterize a unique pattern of executive dysfunction. Interventions for eating- and weight-related problems in youth should address underlying deficits in planning and working memory.
Keywords: Children; Executive functioning; Impulsivity; Loss of control eating; Obesity.
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