Negative childhood experiences and disordered eating in adolescents in a weight management program: The role of depressive symptoms

Eat Behav. 2020 Aug;38:101402. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2020.101402. Epub 2020 May 22.


Objective: Stress negatively impacts adolescent weight status and eating behaviors. Previous research investigating this association has focused on traumatic events in childhood, but little is known about the impact of commonly experienced stressful life events and weight-related outcome. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to examine the association between negative life events and weight-related outcomes (i.e., weight status, disordered eating behaviors, insulin sensitivity) in a sample of treatment-seeking adolescents with overweight and obesity. A further aim of the study was to examine the potential mediating role of depression.

Method: Adolescents (N = 170; M age = 14.8; 62% female) presenting to an interdisciplinary weight management program completed measures related to negative life events, disordered eating patterns, and depressive symptoms prior to initiating treatment. Weight status and insulin sensitivity (using fasting glucose and fasting insulin) were objectively measured.

Results: Stressful experiences during childhood were significantly related to weight status, F = 2.78, p < .05, and disordered eating, F = 5.51, p < .001, in regression analyses. Stressful life events were not related to insulin sensitivity. Depressive symptoms mediated the association between stressful experiences and disordered eating (b = 0.001, [CI = 0.0002, 0.0011]). Depressive symptoms did not mediate this association for weight status or insulin sensitivity.

Discussion: Findings from the present study suggest that relatively common stressful events may be associated with development of disordered eating patterns in adolescents with overweight or obesity presenting to treatment. Providers working in weight management settings should consider assessing a range of potentially stressful life events and their potential weight-related implications.

Keywords: Adolescent; Obesity; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Overweight