Objective. To assess the prevalence of overeating among adolescents and to examine associations between overeating and sociodemographic characteristics, weight status, dieting behaviors, body satisfaction, depressive mood, self-esteem, and suicide.
Method. A school-based sample of 4746 boys and girls in public middle and high schools in Minnesota completed the Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) survey and anthropometric measurements of height and weight.
Results. Overall, 17.3% of girls and 7.8% of boys reported objective overeating in the past year. Youths who engaged in overeating were more likely to be overweight or obese, to have dieted in the past year, to be trying to lose weight currently, and to report that weight and shape are very important to their overall feelings about self. Youths who met criteria for binge eating syndrome (high frequency of objective overeating with loss of control and distress regarding the binge eating) scored significantly lower on measures of body satisfaction and self-esteem and higher on a measure of depressive mood than those who reported either subclinical or no binge eating. Overeating was associated with suicide risk; more than one fourth of girls (28.6%) and boys (27.8%) who met criteria for binge eating syndrome reported that they had attempted suicide.
Conclusions. Overeating among adolescents is associated with a number of adverse behaviors and negative psychological experiences. As the current study is cross-sectional, it is not possible to ascertain cause and effect. Future research should seek to identify whether objective overeating is an early warning sign of additional psychological distress or is a potential consequence of compromised psychological health. Clinical implications are discussed.