Food-Approach Eating Behaviors and Brain Morphology: The Generation R Study

Olga Dmitrichenko, Yuchan Mou, Trudy Voortman, Tonya White*, Pauline W. Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Food-approach eating behaviors are associated with an increased risk of developing overweight/obesity and binge-eating disorder, while obesity and binge-eating disorder have also been linked with altered brain morphology in adults. To understand these associations, we examined the association of food-approach eating behaviors during childhood with adolescents' brain morphology. The sample included 1,781 adolescents with assessments of eating behaviors at ages 4 and 10 years and brain imaging data at 13 years from a large, population-based cohort. Food approach eating behaviors (enjoyment of food, emotional overeating, and food responsiveness) were assessed using the Child Eating Behavior Questionnaire. Additionally, we assessed binge eating symptoms using two items from the Development and Well-Being Assessment at 13 years of age. Adolescents participated in an MRI procedure and measures of brain morphology, including cerebral white, cerebral gray and subcortical gray matter volumes, were extracted from T1-weighted images processed using FreeSurfer. Enjoyment of food and food responsiveness at the age of 4 and 10 years were positively associated with cerebral white matter and subcortical gray matter volumes at age 13 years (e.g., enjoyment of food at 4 years and cerebral white matter: β = 2.73, 95% CI 0.51, 4.91). Enjoyment of food and food responsiveness at 4 years of age, but not at 10 years, were associated with a larger cerebral gray matter volume at 13 years of age (e.g., enjoyment of food at 4 years: β = 0.24, 95% CI 0.03, 0.45). No statistically significant associations were found for emotional overeating at both ages and brain measurements at 13 years of age. post-hoc analyses showed no associations of food-approach eating behaviors with amygdala or hippocampus. Lastly, we did not observe significant associations of binge-eating symptoms with global brain measurements and a priori-defined regions of interest, including the right frontal operculum, insular and orbitofrontal cortex. Our findings support an association between food-approach eating behaviors, especially enjoyment of food and food responsiveness, and brain morphology in adolescence. Our findings add important knowledge to previous studies that were mostly conducted in adults, by suggesting that the eating behavior-brain link may be visible earlier in life. Further research is needed to determine causality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number846148
JournalFrontiers in Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2022


  • adolescents
  • binge eating
  • eating behaviors
  • food-approach behaviors
  • neuroimaging


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