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Emotional over- and under-eating in early childhood are learned not inherited

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Moritz Herle, Alison Fildes, Silje Steinsbekk, Fruhling Rijsdijk, Clare H. Llewellyn

Original languageEnglish
Article number9092
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date22 Aug 2017
Accepted/In press27 Jul 2017
E-pub ahead of print22 Aug 2017
Published1 Dec 2017


King's Authors


Emotional overeating (EOE) has been associated with increased obesity risk, while emotional undereating (EUE) may be protective. Interestingly, EOE and EUE tend to correlate positively, but it is unclear whether they reflect different aspects of the same underlying trait, or are distinct behaviours with different aetiologies. Data were from 2054 five-year-old children from the Gemini twin birth cohort, including parental ratings of child EOE and EUE using the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire. Genetic and environmental influences on variation and covariation in EUE and EOE were established using a bivariate Twin Model. Variation in both behaviours was largely explained by aspects of the environment completely shared by twin pairs (EOE: C = 90%, 95% CI: 89%-92%; EUE: C = 91%, 95% CI: 90%-92%). Genetic influence was low (EOE: A = 7%, 95% CI: 6%-9%; EUE: A = 7%, 95% CI: 6%-9%). EOE and EUE correlated positively (r = 0.43, p < 0.001), and this association was explained by common shared environmental influences (BivC = 45%, 95% CI: 40%-50%). Many of the shared environmental influences underlying EUE and EOE were the same (rC = 0.50, 95% CI: 0.44, 0.55). Childhood EOE and EUE are etiologically distinct. The tendency to eat more or less in response to emotion is learned rather than inherited.

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