Maladaptive Eating Patterns in Children

Sarah A. Wildermuth, PsyD; Glenn R. Mesman, PhD; Wendy L. Ward, PhD


J Pediatr Health Care. 2013;27(2):109-119. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Given the increasing frequency of obesity and related maladaptive eating patterns in pediatric populations, health care professionals in a variety of settings must find ways to treat persons who are obese and have maladaptive eating patterns. The authors summarized literature related to binge eating disorder, boredom eating, emotional eating, and night eating syndrome and developed educational handouts designed for children/adolescents and their families who present with these eating problems. These educational handouts may be used by primary care physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and other specialists in medical settings. They are free for use in educational purposes, with permission from the authors, but are not intended to replace appropriate health care and follow-up.


Childhood obesity is a rising concern among health care professionals as the frequency of overweight children presenting in medical settings increases. It is well established that a myriad of physical consequences result from pediatric obesity, including cardiovascular disease (Dietz & Robinson, 2005), hypertension, high cholesterol, and abnormal triglycerides (Reilly et al., 2003), hyperinsulinism (Viner, Segal, Lichtarowicz-Krynska, & Hindmarsh, 2005), Type 2 diabetes (Aye & Levitsky, 2003), asthma (Castro-Rodriquez, Holberg, Morgan, & Martinez, 2001), obstructive sleep apnea (Shine, Coates, & Lannigan, 2005), and musculoskeletal problems such as Blounts disease (Deckelbaum & Williams, 2001). Pediatric obesity also has been linked to reduced quality of life (Griffiths, Parsons, & Hill, 2010), depression (Datar and Sturm, 2004, Swallen et al., 2005), low self-esteem (Griffiths et al., 2010), and anxiety (Warschburger, 2005).

Medical professionals often are called upon to treat obesity, but they have relatively little to no information on how to motivate a child to change eating behaviors successfully or how to assess for maladaptive eating behaviors (e.g., binge eating, emotional eating, boredom eating, and nighttime eating) that are present in a subgroup of obese individuals. Consequently, health care professionals and the patient and family must be informed about how to achieve specific goals of increased physical activity and lowered caloric intake and how to help the patient overcome a variety of barriers that may prevent personal change (Ward-Begnoche & Gance-Cleveland, 2005). The aim of this is to define each maladaptive eating pattern and to discuss appropriate treatment recommendations. This also provides educational handouts for patients and their parents on each type of eating pattern as a way to provide the information in a clear and concise manner that can be taken home as a reference.