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Emotional Regulation and Overeating Behaviors in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

  • Favieri, Francesca1
  • Marini, Andrea
  • Casagrande, Maria
  • 1 Department of Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, 00185 Rome, Italy
Published Article
Behavioral Sciences
Publication Date
Jan 19, 2021
DOI: 10.3390/bs11010011
PMID: 33477932
PMCID: PMC7833366
PubMed Central
  • Review


The worldwide prevalence of obesity has dramatically increased, mostly in children and adolescents. The Emotional Eating theoretical model has proposed that the failure in emotional regulation could represent a risk factor for establishing maladaptive overeating behavior that represents an inadequate response to negative emotions and allows increasing body-weight. This systematic review investigates the relationship between overeating and both emotional regulation and emotional intelligence in childhood and adolescence, considering both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Moreover, another goal of the review is evaluating whether emotional regulation and emotional intelligence can cause overeating behaviors. The systematic search was conducted according to the PRISMA-statement in the databases Medline, PsychArtcles, PsychInfo, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Sciences, and allows 484 records to be extracted. Twenty-six studies were selected according to inclusion (e.g., studies focused on children and adolescents without clinical conditions; groups of participants overweight or with obesity) and exclusion (e.g., studies that adopted qualitative assessment or cognitive-affective tasks to measure emotional variables; reviews, commentary, or brief reports) criteria detailed in the methods. Cross-sectional studies showed a negative association between emotional regulation and overeating behavior that was confirmed by longitudinal studies. These findings highlighted the role of maladaptive emotion regulation on overeating and being overweight. The relationship between these constructs in children and adolescents was consistent. The results indicated the complexity of this association, which would be influenced by many physiological, psychological, and social factors. These findings underline the need for further studies focused on emotion regulation in the development of overeating. They should analyze the mediation role of other variables (e.g., attachment style, peer pressure) and identify interventions to prevent and reduce worldwide overweight prevalence.

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