Objective: Eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) may be a behavioral trait through which obesity-promoting genes promote positive energy balance. The primary aim of this study was to compare children born at high vs. low risk for obesity with respect to EAH at 5 years of age.
Research Methods and Procedures: This was an observational investigation of families enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Infant Growth Study. Five-year-old children born at high (N = 28) or low (N = 25) risk for obesity on the basis of maternal prepregnancy body weight were evaluated at a hospital-based laboratory. Children consumed 11 snack foods ad libitum after consuming an ad libitum dinner and reporting fullness. Parents reported on snack foods at home and their own eating styles. Nutritive sucking at 3 months of age was evaluated by computerized apparatus.
Results: EAH in high-risk boys (mean ± standard error = 326 ± 66 kJ] was more than twice that of low-risk boys (mean ± standard error = 151 ± 39 kJ), p = 0.03. Among girls, there was a trend for EAH to be associated with increased parental limitations on daughter snack food consumption at home (p = 0.06). EAH was unrelated to 3-month sucking behavior.
Discussion: Genes that promote childhood obesity may partially exert their influence through EAH, an effect that was limited to boys born at risk for obesity. The unique influences of genes and home environment on this trait should be disaggregated in subsequent studies.