Impulsive behaviors and poor planning skills in girls age 10 may be linked to weight gains in their teen years, according to a new study. The research, published online Sept. 21 in the journal Pediatrics, points to binge eating as a possible cause of the added pounds.
“Food in our society is so ubiquitous,” study author Anne Goldschmidt, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, told HealthDay. “You can’t even go to [a hardware store] without seeing colorful candy bars in the checkout line. When kids have [problems] controlling their behaviors, it makes sense they would disinhibit themselves around food,” she added.
To determine if there is a link between impulsive behaviors, binge eating and weight gain , Goldschmidt and her colleagues assessed 2,450 girls using parental reports of the girls’ lack of impulse control at age 10 and the girls’ self-reports of their binge eating at ages 10, 12 and 14. In addition, they tracked the girls’ body mass index (BMI) measurements between ages 10 and 16 for their assessments.
The researchers found that among the study participants, 35 percent were overweight between the ages of 10 and 16. About 10 percent of the girls reported binge eating “sometimes” to “always.” Girls whose parents said they were more impulsive or poor planners at age 10 appeared to gain more weight by 16.
Although poor impulse control issues are common in adolescence, the study authors concluded their findings show that poorer behavioral regulation at age 10 may lead to binge eating. This, in turn may contribute to weight problems as the girls get older, they said..
But the authors also noted that the study was limited by the fact that binge eating was self-reported and relied on parents’ observations of poor executive functioning – the mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information for planning, focusing and remembering. In addition, they are clear that their findings show an association and not a cause-and-effect.
Still, health experts value the study. “These findings highlight that weight gain in children is a complex phenomenon, with many contributing factors,” Steve Mittleman, MD, director of the Diabetes & Obesity Program at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, told MedPage Today in an email.
“Understanding how to identify and target behaviors that predict weight gain could help us better prevent obesity in growing children,” added Mittleman, who was not involved in the study.
Goldschmidt and her colleagues called for more research to identify children at risk for obesity because of behavioral issues. “I definitely think more research should be done, especially since obesity is such a huge issue in our society. The earlier we intervene, the better,” said Goldschmidt.