The potential role of an addictive process in problematic eating is a growing area of interest and debate. Children are more vulnerable to the negative effects of addictive substances than adults and may be at increased risk for addictive-like eating behavior. No prior study has evaluated the association of addictive-like eating with objectively measured eating behavior in adults or children. We examined the association between “food addiction” and observed food consumption among children and whether age moderated this association.
Seventy children participated in an observed dinner meal, completed a dietary recall interview, and answered the Yale Food Addiction Scale for Children (YFAS-C), a questionnaire assessing symptoms of “food addiction”. Children’s total calories ordered, calories consumed at dinner, calories consumed post-dinner, and a total of calories consumed at dinner and post-dinner were calculated along with their BMI percentile. We used generalized estimated equation models to investigate the relationship between the YFAS-C and food consumption.
Elevated “food addiction” symptoms, but not BMI percentile, were positively associated with an increased amount of calories consumed at dinner and post-dinner. Age significantly moderated the relationship between YFAS-C and caloric intake, with only younger children exhibiting this association.
As the first study of objectively measured eating behavior, we found addictive-like eating scores in children were positively associated with the total amount of calories consumed. Among younger children, “food addiction” was more strongly associated with the total calories consumed than BMI percentile, highlighting the importance of assessing behavioral phenotypes when evaluating caloric intake. This association between addictive-like eating and caloric intake among younger, but not older children may be due to differences in inhibitory control and dietary restraint.