Executive functioning and excess weight have been associated in cross-sectional and prospective studies, but mechanisms explaining this relationship are unclear. The current study aimed to further explore the longitudinal relationship between executive functioning and changes in body weight and to determine whether binge eating behaviors mediate this relationship.
Community-based girls (N = 2450) were assessed by using the behavioral measure of planning, Mazes subtest, and a parent-report measure of impulsivity at age 10; a self-report measure of binge eating at ages 10, 12, and 14; and investigator-measured BMI annually between ages 10 and 16. Regression and bootstrapping analyses explored the relations among age 10 impulsivity and planning, age 12 and age 14 binge eating frequency, and age 10 to 16 BMI changes.
Age 10 impulsivity and planning each independently predicted age 10 to 16 BMI changes, after accounting for demographics, verbal comprehension, and BMI at age 10 (Ps < .001). Binge eating tendencies at age 12 mediated the relation between age 10 impulsivity and age 10 to 16 BMI changes, after controlling for demographics, verbal comprehension, binge eating frequency, and BMI at age 10 (indirect effect estimate = 0.0007; 95% confidence interval = 0.0001–0.0020).
Results support the hypothesis that poorer executive functioning predicts weight gain from middle childhood through adolescence in girls, and that this effect may be partially explained by binge-eating behaviors in early adolescence.