Bridging executive function and disinhibited eating among youth: A network analysis

Meghan E. Byrne, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff*, Jason M. Lavender, Megan N. Parker, Lisa M. Shank, Taylor N. Swanson, Eliana Ramirez, Sarah LeMay-Russell, Shanna B. Yang, Sheila M. Brady, Anna Zenno, Krishna Karthik Chivukula, Nichole R. Kelly, Jack A. Yanovski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objective: Poorer executive function (EF) has been linked to disinhibited eating in youth, suggesting poor EF predisposes toward obesity, yet the specific nature and extent of interconnections between facets of these domains is unclear. Network analysis provides a promising framework for elucidating the relationship between poor EF and disinhibited eating, and offers insights into potential maintenance processes. Method: Among youth ages 8–17 years, a regularized partial correlation network of EF and disinhibited eating facets was estimated to examine expected influence centrality and bridge expected influence. Computerized neurocognitive tasks assessed EF variables, including decision-making, general and food-related inhibitory control, delayed gratification, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Disinhibited eating variables included total carbohydrate–fat intake at a laboratory test meal and self-reported eating in the absence of hunger, emotional eating, and loss-of-control eating severity. Results: In the current sample (N = 248; Mage = 12.5; 54.8% female; 43.5% non-Hispanic White; 25.8% non-Hispanic Black; BMI %ile = 65.8 ± 27.8), emotional eating in response to depressive symptoms emerged as a central symptom in the network. Carbohydrate–fat intake had the highest bridge expected influence and was most strongly connected to general inhibitory control (part r =.14). Discussion: The link between general inhibitory control and objective palatable food intake may be particularly salient in maintaining maladaptive eating behavior. Interventions targeting behavioral disinhibition may disrupt associations among a network of disinhibited eating facets in youth and should be targets for longitudinal research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-732
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • binge eating
  • child and adolescent
  • childhood obesity
  • eating behavior
  • executive function
  • loss-of-control eating
  • network analysis


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