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Identifying childhood predictors of binge eating and understanding risk mechanisms could help improve prevention and detection efforts. The aim of this study was to examine whether features of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as childhood eating disturbances, predicted binge eating later in adolescence.
We studied specific risk factors for the development of binge eating during mid-adolescence among 7120 males and females from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a cohort study of children in the UK, using data from multiple informants to develop structural equation models. Repeated assessment of eating disturbances during childhood (mid-childhood overeating, late-childhood overeating and early-adolescent strong desire for food), as well as teacher- and parent-reported hyperactivity/inattention during mid- and late childhood, were considered as possible predictors of mid-adolescent binge eating.
Prevalence of binge eating during mid-adolescence in our sample was 11.6%. The final model of predictors of binge eating during mid-adolescence included direct effects of late-childhood overeating [standardized estimate 0.145, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.038–0.259, p = 0.009] and early-adolescent strong desire for food (standardized estimate 0.088, 95% CI −0.002 to 0.169, p = 0.05). Hyperactivity/inattention during late childhood indirectly predicted binge eating during mid-adolescence (standardized estimate 0.085, 95% CI 0.007–0.128, p = 0.03) via late-childhood overeating and early-adolescent strong desire for food.
Our findings indicate that early ADHD symptoms, in addition to an overeating phenotype, contribute to risk for adolescent binge eating. These findings lend support to the potential role of hyperactivity/inattention in the development of overeating and binge eating.
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