Prevalence and correlates of binge eating in a nonclinical sample of women enrolled in a weight gain prevention program

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OBJECTIVES: The aims of the present study were to examine the prevalence and correlates of binge eating in a nonclinical sample of women and to examine whether associations differed by overweight status. DESIGN: Cross-sectional comparison of women based on self-reported binge eating status (large amount of food eaten and feelings of lack of control during these eating episodes) and overweight status (measured body weight: overweight defined as body mass index (BMI ≥ 27.3 kg/m2). PARTICIPANTS: Subjects were 817 women aged 20-45 y from the community who enrolled in a three year prospective intervention study to examine methods for preventing age-related weight gain. MEASURES: Body weight was measured at baseline and three-year follow-up. Self-report measures of binge eating, dieting practices, eating and exercise behaviours, depression, self-esteem and stressful life events were collected at the three-year follow-up. RESULTS: The prevalence of binge eating in the past six months was 9% among normal weight women and 21% among overweight women. The frequency of binge eating was low (> 50% of binge eaters binged less than once per week) and did not significantly differ by body weight status. Compared to non-binge eaters, binge eaters reported more dieting practices, more extreme attitudes about weight and shape, and higher levels of depression and stressful life events. Binge eating was not related to habitual eating and exercise behaviours. In multivariate models, weight/shape importance (odds ratio (0R) = 3.33; 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) = 2.10, 5.29), depression (OR = 1.73; 95% CI = 1.07, 2.79) and history of intentional weight loss episodes (OR = 1.68; 95% CI = 1.03, 1.13) were independently associated with increased odds of binge eating. CONCLUSIONS: Binge eating is about twice as prevalent among overweight women, compared to normal weight women, in a nonclinical sample, but has similar correlates (that is, dieting, depression, weight/shape preoccupation). Prospective research is needed to determine whether there are causal associations between binge eating, depression, dieting and weight gain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-585
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999



  • Binge eating
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Dieting
  • Obesity
  • Weight loss

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