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Keywords:

  • Binge eating;
  • night eating;
  • obesity;
  • six-year-old children;
  • cross-sectional survey

Background:  To assess the prevalence of obesity, obesity-related binge eating, non-obesity-related binge eating, and night eating in five- to six-year-old children and to examine the impact of parental eating disturbances.

Methods:  When 2020 children attended their obligatory health exam prior to school entry in the city of Aachen, Germany, 1979 parents (97.9%) filled out a questionnaire on their child's eating habits and weight development in a cross-sectional survey. Anthropometric measurements were collected for all children in a standardized form.

Results:  Episodes of binge eating were found in 2.0% of the children surveyed and night eating in 1.1%. There was a significant relationship between binge eating and obesity but not between night eating and the child's weight. Children's binge eating and night eating were strongly associated with eating disturbances on the part of their mothers (adjusted odds ratios [95% confidence intervals]: 6.1 [2.7–13.5] and 7.8 [2.1–29.4], respectively) and with a non-German native language (adjusted odds ratios [95% confidence intervals]: 2.6 [1.2–5.5] and 11.6 [3.5–38.7], respectively).

Conclusions:  In concurrence with studies on adulthood, binge eating is linked to obesity already in early childhood. Children of mothers with eating disorders and children of mothers with a non-German native language are at increased risk of developing eating disorders themselves. Future studies should focus on obesity and eating disorders in early childhood; prevention programs should seek to target young children at risk as early as possible.