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Physical activity as a moderator of the association between emotional eating and BMI: Evidence from the Swiss Food Panel

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Objective : Research has demonstrated that emotional eating (eating induced by negative affect or distress) is associated with overconsumption and weight gain. This study tests whether recreational physical activity attenuates the relationship between emotional eating and body weight.

Design : Analyses are based on the second (2011) and third (2012) wave of the Swiss Food Panel, an ongoing longitudinal survey of the eating and activity behaviour of the Swiss population. Data from 3425 participants (47% males) with a mean age of 56 years (SD= 14) were analysed.

Main outcome measures : Body mass index, health consciousness and food consumption (vegetables/fruits and sweet, high-fat foods).

Results : Analyses revealed an independent interaction effect of emotional eating and recreational physical activity, over and above other predictors of Body Mass Index (BMI). Compared to their low-active counterparts, highly active emotional eaters had a lower BMI and consumed more vegetables and fruits. No difference was found for sweet, high-fat foods.

Conclusion : The results suggest that emotional eaters who are also highly active may still feel the urge to eat when under emotional distress; however, they also choose more healthy foods to cope with this distress. Increasing physical activity could be a promising intervention strategy in preventing weight gain in emotional eaters.
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Keywords: body weight; eating styles; emotional eating; physical activity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany 2: Department of Health Science and Technology, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: September 2, 2014

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