Poor executive functioning in girls tied to future weight gain
Poor executive functioning in girls at age ten may be linked to weight gain during their teen years, and some of the excess pounds might be tied to binge eating, a US study suggests.
Researchers assessed almost 2,500 girls at multiple points between ages 10 and 16 to see how their behavior and personality traits might be linked to their eating habits and weight. Girls whose parents said they were more impulsive or less adept at planning at age 10 appeared to gain more weight through age 16, Reuters reported.
About 10 percent of the girls reported binge eating at some point during the study, and doing so at age 12 appeared to account for some of the excess weight gain the more impulsive girls experienced by age 16.
“Children are constantly cued to eat by food commercials, vending machines, etc., so it is easy to imagine how a child who is poorly inhibited could have difficulty resisting these cues to eat,” said lead study author Andrea Goldschmidt, an eating disorders researcher at the University of Chicago.
Even though the study only found a small difference in weight gain for the more impulsive girls, it was still statistically meaningful and might mean the teens are more likely to be overweight or obese as adult women, Goldschmidt said.
“For some people gaining only a few pounds could move them from the non-overweight to overweight range,” Goldschmidt said.
Globally, roughly 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, as are about 42 million children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint disorders and certain cancers.
While many things — including activity levels and eating habits — can influence whether people become obese, emotional and behavioral tendencies can also play a role, making it important that doctors understand any psychological factors that might contribute to weight gain.
To explore the potential role of binge eating in the connection between executive functioning and excess weight, the researchers assessed girls’ weight relative to their height four times over the course of the study period.
Based on their weight relative to their height, as many as 35 percent of the study participants were overweight or obese between the ages of 10 and 16, the study found.
Researchers also evaluated executive functioning and planning skills using standardized tests and assessed the participants for symptoms of attention deficits or hyperactivity disorders.
Even though poor impulse control can to some extent be a hallmark of adolescence, the findings suggest that poorer behavioral regulation at age 10 may lead to greater weight gain during the teen years, the authors conclude in the journal Pediatrics.
One limitation of the study, however, is its reliance on teens to accurately recall and report their eating habits and note whether they were prone to binges over the past year, the researchers note. Similarly, the study relied on parents to accurately note their daughters’ levels of impulsiveness.
Even so, it’s possible that certain brain regions may orchestrate a range of self-control behaviors that include impulsivity and binging, said Myles Faith, a psychology researcher at the University at Buffalo.
Children entering US illegally double
About double the number of Central American children entered the United States illegally in August compared to a year ago, surprising the Obama administration which had been touting a downward trend over the past year.
Overall, for the first 11 months of the fiscal year that began in October, the arrivals of children traveling without adults to the southwest border from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala dropped 46 percent from the year-ago period, Reuters reported.
But the number rose to more than 4,000 in August from about 2,200 12 months earlier and 3,700 in July 2015, government figures show.
“We have seen over the last year a precipitous decline in the number of unaccompanied children attempting to enter this country without proper documentation and we have seen just in the last month, in the month of August, a surprising uptick,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“They are an aberration from the trend we’ve seen long-term,” although the numbers were still far below last year’s peak, he said.
The August jump was worrying to immigration specialists who noted that hot summer weather typically led to fewer children aged 17 and younger risking the dangerous journey from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over rough terrain to the southwestern US border.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement it was increasing bed capacity for undocumented immigrants.
From Oct. 1, 2014 to Aug. 31, 2015, 35,494 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border, down from 66,115 for the same period the previous year.
Another 34,565 children traveling with at least one adult have also been apprehended, down from 66,144 over the same period.
Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, said the large number of children trying to enter the United States in August was largely spurred by the persistence of drug-related and other violence in Central America and smugglers possibly finding new ways to get children to the US border.
A wave of child immigrants alarmed US officials last spring. By June, President Barack Obama was noting a humanitarian crisis unfolding at the southwestern border with Mexico.
In response, he announced steps to discourage youth from leaving their homes and Mexico stepped up its border security.