Background

Internalizing problems are theorized to be involved in the origins and outcomes of loss of control (LOC) eating, a robust risk factor for excess weight gain, especially for adolescent girls. Most research has focused on depression, so more is needed to examine gender differences in the temporal relationships among LOC, anxiety, and depression.

Methods

Participants were 1,344 U.S. adolescents (11-14 years; 51% girls; 51% non-Hispanic White). Validated questionnaires of LOC eating (αs=.93-.94), anxiety (αs=.87-.91), and depressive symptoms (αs=.91-.93) were administered during school in Fall 2016 (T1), Spring 2017 (T2), and Fall 2017 (T3).

Results

Gender differences were found for all parameters in multiple group analyses of an autoregressive cross-lagged path model (ps<.001; CFI=.97; RMSEA=.03, 90% CIRMSEA=.02-.04). Covariates included age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and BMI-z. Reciprocal longitudinal associations between LOC and depressive symptoms from T1 to T2 and T2 to T3 were found for girls (βs=.11-.14, ps<.05), but not boys (βs=.01-.04, ps>.05). Apart from LOC predicting increases in panic disorder symptoms from T1 to T2 (β=.07, p<.05), there were no direct relationships between LOC and anxiety in girls (ps>.05). Among boys, however, reciprocal longitudinal associations between LOC and generalized anxiety disorder symptoms were found from T1 to T2 and T2 to T3 (βs=.10-.11, ps<.05). Bidirectional associations between LOC and social anxiety disorder symptoms from T1 to T2 also were found for boys (βs=.09-.11, ps<.05).

Conclusions

These findings confirm the bidirectional relationship between depressive symptoms and LOC for girls, and illuminate the bidirectional relationship between anxiety and LOC for boys, providing potential targets of intervention.