BACKGROUND: Examining binge eating symptoms before the diagnosis of binge eating disorder in children with obesity could provide important information on prevention of future eating disorders. METHODS: We examined the prevalence and multilevel determinants of three binge eating symptoms: (1) sneaking, hiding, or hoarding food; (2) eating in the absence of hunger, and (3) inhibition or embarrassment when eating in front of others among 817 children aged 5-12 years old with overweight/obesity receiving primary care in eastern Massachusetts. We examined the associations of child and parent/household characteristics with the prevalence ratios (PRs) of these three binge eating symptoms. RESULTS: Approximately one-third of parents reported that their children would sneak, hide, or hoard food; 40% ate large amounts in the absence of hunger; and 8% were inhibited/embarrassed when eating in front of others. In multivariate analyses, greater screen time was associated with a higher prevalence of sneaking, hiding, or hoarding (PR 1.06, 95% CI: 1.01-1.11). We found that children with severe obesity (PR 1.50, 95% CI: 1.24-1.81 vs. nonsevere obesity) had higher prevalence of eating in the absence of hunger. Increased hours of screen time were associated with higher prevalence of eating in the absence of hunger, (PR: 1.07, 95% CI: 1.03-1.11), whereas longer sleep duration (PR: 0.90, 95% CI: 0.82-0.99) was associated with lower prevalence of eating in the absence of hunger. CONCLUSIONS: Eating in the absence of hunger was the most common symptom in our sample and was associated with screen time and sleep.
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