Emotional Eating in Adults: The Role of Sociodemographics, Lifestyle Behaviors, and Self-Regulation-Findings from a U.S. National Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 11;18(4):1744. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041744.


Background: Emotional eating, the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions, has been linked to weight gain. However, scant evidence exists examining the prevalence and correlates of emotional eating among large samples of adults in the United States (U.S.). Hence, we examine the relationship among individual and socioeconomic factors, health behaviors, and self-regulation with emotional eating patterns among U.S. adults.

Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of 5863 Family Health Habits Survey participants. Multivariable, ordered, logistic regression was employed to examine the relationship between the frequency of the desire to eat when emotionally upset (never, rarely, sometimes, often, and very often) and the independent variables.

Results: Analysis reveals that 20.5% of the sample tended to emotionally eat often or very often. Being female, non-Hispanic White, and of younger age were all related to a higher likelihood of emotional eating. Additionally, inability to delay gratification (impatience) was related to an 18% increased likelihood (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05-1.33) for emotional eating. Finally, emotional eating was significantly related to more frequent fast-food consumption.

Conclusions: Program planners might need to develop targeted interventions aimed at enhancing emotional regulation skills while addressing these less healthful behaviors (e.g., fast-food intake) with the goal of obesity and chronic disease prevention.

Keywords: emotional eating; lifestyle behaviors; self-regulation; sociodemographics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eating
  • Emotions
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Self-Control*
  • United States / epidemiology