Emotional dysregulation moderates the relation between perceived stress and emotional eating in adolescent military dependents

Holly Spinner, Katherine A. Thompson*, Viviana Bauman, Jason M. Lavender, Isabel Thorstad, Ruby Schrag, Tracy Sbrocco, Natasha A. Schvey, Brian Ford, Caitlin Ford, Denise E. Wilfley, Sarah Jorgensen, David A. Klein, Jeffrey Quinlan, Jack A. Yanovski, Mark Haigney, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Adolescent children of US service members (i.e., military-dependent youth) face unique stressors that increase risk for various forms of disinhibited eating, including emotional eating. Difficulties with adaptively responding to stress and aversive emotions may play an important role in emotional eating. This study examined emotion dysregulation as a potential moderator of the association between perceived stress and emotional eating in adolescent military dependents. Method: Participants were military-dependent youth (N = 163, 57.7% female, Mage = 14.5 ± 1.6, MBMI-z = 1.9 ± 0.4) at risk for adult binge-eating disorder and high weight enrolled in a randomized controlled prevention trial. Prior to intervention, participants completed questionnaires assessing perceived stress and emotional eating. Parents completed a questionnaire assessing their adolescent's emotion dysregulation. Moderation analyses were conducted using the PROCESS macro in SPSS and adjusted for theoretically relevant sociodemographic covariates. Results: The interaction between adolescent perceived stress and emotion dysregulation (parent-reported about the adolescent) in relation to adolescent emotional eating was found to be significant, such that higher emotion dysregulation magnified the association between perceived stress and emotional eating (p =.010). Examination of simple slopes indicated that associations between perceived stress and emotional eating were strongest for youth with above-average emotion dysregulation, and non-significant for youth with average or below-average emotion dysregulation. Discussion: Findings suggest that greater emotion dysregulation may increase risk for emotional eating in response to stress among military-dependent youth at risk for binge-eating disorder or high weight. Improving emotion regulation skills may be a useful target for eating disorder prevention among youth who are at risk for emotional eating. Public Significance: Prior research has shown that adolescent military dependents are at increased risk for eating disorders and high weight. The current study found that emotion dysregulation moderated the relationship between perceived stress and emotional eating among military-dependent youth. There may be clinical utility in intervening on emotion regulation for adolescent dependents at particular risk for emotional eating and subsequent eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescents
  • emotion dysregulation
  • emotional eating
  • military dependents
  • perceived stress


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