Background/objectives: Eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) has been linked to obesity in adults and children. This study examined the stability of EAH in children between 4.5 and 6 years old, and associations with energy intake and portion selection, as well as cross-sectional and prospective associations with body composition.
Methods: The participants were 158 boys and girls from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes cohort. At ages 4.5 and 6 years old children were provided lunch ad libitum, and immediately afterwards were exposed to palatable snacks to measure energy intake in the absence of hunger. At age 6 children completed an additional computer-based task to measure ideal portion size, where they selected pictures of the portions they would like to eat across eight foods. Measures of anthropometry (height/weight/skinfolds) were collected at both ages.
Results: Children who consumed energy during the EAH task at age 4.5 years were 3 times more likely to also do so at age 6 years. Children with high EAH intakes at age 4.5 years had high EAH intakes at age 6, highlighting stability of this behaviour over time. Energy consumed at lunch was unrelated to energy consumed during the EAH task, but children who ate in the absence of hunger cumulatively consumed more energy over lunch and the EAH task. Children who showed EAH tended to select larger ideal portions of foods during the computer task. EAH was not associated with measures of body composition.
Conclusions: EAH is a stable behavioural risk factor for increased energy intake, but was not associated with body composition in this cohort. The majority of children ate in the absence of hunger, suggesting that interventions aimed at reducing responsiveness to external food cues could help to reduce energy intakes. Trial Registry Number: NCT01174875; https://clinicaltrials.gov/.
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