Background

Both the relative reinforcing value (RRV) of food, or the motivation to obtain food, and eating disorder (ED) pathology have been shown to be higher among those with overweight/obesity (OW/OB). However, less is known about how the interaction between the RRV of food and ED pathology is associated with weight status. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the combined effects of the RRV of food and ED pathology on zBMI in a sample of adolescents.

Methods

Participants included 163 12-14 year olds participating in a longitudinal study examining factors that predict changes in weight status. Data presented are from baseline. Height and weight were measured. The RRV of food was examined separately, on different days, for high energy-dense (HED) and low energy-dense (LED) foods using a computer task, with a seated activity offered as the alternative. RRV was assessed as the proportion of total clicks for food. Global ED pathology was assessed using adolescent self-report on the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire. Linear regression was used to examine whether the interaction between RRV of food and ED pathology predicted zBMI at baseline. Child age, sex, pre-RRV hunger, and liking of the food were entered as covariates. Separate models were run for HED and LED food.

Results

The interaction between RRV of HED food and ED pathology predicted zBMI (p = .045); adolescents low in RRV of HED food and high in ED pathology had the highest zBMI. Similarly, the interaction between RRV of LED food and ED pathology predicted zBMI (p = .014); adolescents high in RRV of LED food and high in ED pathology had the highest zBMI.

Conclusions

While the RRV of food and ED pathology are both independently associated with elevated weight status, the current study indicates that there may be something unique about the interaction between RRV of food and ED pathology related to risk of OW/OB. Future work will examine whether these relationships predict weight gain in this vulnerable population.