Do depressed kids eat more sweets? Do kids from alcoholic families like a more intense taste of sweetness? And does taking part in unhealthy eating behaviors cause women who are concerned about their diet and self-image to experience a worsening of their moods? A new study reports that college-age women's moods may be based on whether they're eating healthy or disordered, according to Penn State researchers presenting today, March 15, 2013 at the American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting.
Researchers discussed the 2013 (latest) study of college-age women's eating behaviors. How do those eating behaviors relate to moods? The moods reported did relate to whether the eating was healthy or unhealthy for those participants. Findings focused on the link between unhealthy eating and bad moods such as anger, negativity, or sadness or a mood not associated with a feeling of well-being that arose after eating unhealthy foods.
Moods worsened after bouts of disordered eating says new study
In a study, college-age women who were concerned about their eating behaviors reported that moods worsened after bouts of disordered eating, said Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center. "There was little in the way of mood changes right before the unhealthy eating behaviors," explained Heron in the March 15, 2013 news release, Unhealthy eating can make a bad mood worse. "However, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviors."
According to Heron, who worked with Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health, Stacey Scott, research associate in the Center for Healthy Aging, and Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and family studies, people who experience disordered eating patterns may exhibit behaviors such as binge eating, loss of control over eating and food intake restriction.
The researchers, who present their findings on March 15, 2013 at the American Psychosomatic Society conference in Miami, detected little change in the participants' moods prior to unhealthy eating. While negative mood was worse after disordered eating, a positive mood did not change either before or after any of the behaviors studied by the researchers.
The researchers gathered data from participants in real-life situations
The team gave handheld computers to 131 women who had high levels of unhealthy eating habits and concerns about their body shape and weight, but did not have eating disorders. Several times during the day, the devices would prompt the participants to answer questions about their mood and eating behaviors.
"What we know about mood and eating behaviors comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies," said Heron in the news release. "We were interested in studying women in their everyday lives to see whether mood changed before or after they engaged in unhealthy eating and weight control behaviors."
Smyth said that the study could lead to better treatments for women experiencing eating problems
"This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviors as they occur in people's daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating," Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health said in the news release.
"The results from this study can help us to better understand the role mood may play in the development and maintenance of unhealthy eating, and weight-control behaviors, which could be useful for creating more effective treatment programs for people with eating and weight concerns."
Can eating too many sweets lead to violent aggression in some people?
A previous study done in 2009 reported that eating daily sweets during childhood increases adult aggression. You may want to check out this older study from Cardiff University that found children who eat sweets and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to research that took place back in 2009 in this other study.
An older study consisted of almost 17,500 participants in the 1970 British Cohort Study found that 10-year-olds who ate confectionary daily were significantly more likely to have been convicted for violence at age 34 years. But is there a connection between high levels of sugar in the body and violence." In the 2009 study, published in the October 1, 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, was the first to examine the long-term effects of childhood diet on adult violence.
Researchers from Cardiff University found that 69 per cent of the participants who were violent at the age of 34 had eaten sweets and chocolate nearly every day during childhood, compared to 42% who were non-violent.
This link between confectionary consumption and violence remained after controlling for other factors
The researchers put forward several explanations for the link. Lead researcher Dr Simon Moore said in the October 1, 2009 news release, Eating sweets every day in childhood 'increases adult aggression,' "Our favored explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behavior, which is strongly associated with delinquency."
The researchers concluded, "This association between confectionary consumption and violence needs further attention. Targeting resources at improving children's diet may improve health and reduce aggression." On the other hand, another news release on a different study done in 2010 notes, "Intense sweets taste especially good to some kids."
Individual differences in liking for sweetness based in part on underlying biology
New research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center reports that children's response to intense sweet taste is related to both a family history of alcoholism and the child's own self-reports of depression.
The findings illustrate how liking for sweets differs among children based on underlying familial and biological factors. "We know that sweet taste is rewarding to all kids and makes them feel good," said study lead author Julie A. Mennella, PhD, a developmental psychobiologist at Monell in the February 10, 2010 news release, Intense sweets taste especially good to some kids. Dr. Mennella added, "In addition, certain groups of children may be especially attracted to intense sweetness due to their underlying biology."
Sweet taste and alcohol activate many of the same reward circuits in the brain
Because sweet taste and alcohol activate many of the same reward circuits in the brain, the researchers examined the sweet preferences of children with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. They also studied the influence of depression, hypothesizing that children with depressive symptoms might have a greater affinity for sweets because sweets make them feel better.
In the study, published online in the journal Addiction, 300 children between 5 and 12 years of age tasted five levels of sucrose (table sugar) in water to determine their most preferred level of sweetness. The children also were asked questions to assess the presence of depressive symptoms, while their mothers reported information on family alcohol use.
Half of the children who liked intense sweets had a family history of alcoholism, and some kids also had a family history of depression
Nearly half (49 percent) of the children had a family history of alcoholism, based on having a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle who had received a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. Approximately one-quarter were classified as exhibiting depressive symptoms.
Liking for intense sweetness was greatest in the 37 children having both a positive family history of alcoholism and also reporting depressive symptoms. The most liked level of sweetness for these children was 24 percent sucrose, which is equivalent to about 14 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of water and more than twice the level of sweetness in a typical cola. This was one third more intense than the sweetness level preferred by the other children, which was 18 percent sucrose.
Kids who craved intense sweetness liked best the equivalent of 14 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of water
Dr. Mennella noted that the findings do not necessarily mean that there is a relationship between early sweet preferences and alcoholism later in life. "At this point, we don't know whether this higher 'bliss point' for sweets is a marker for later alcohol use," she said in the news release.
Previous studies have suggested that sweets may help to alleviate depressive symptoms in adults. In a similar vein, sweets are rewarding to children not only because they taste good, but also because they act as analgesics to reduce pain. Because of this, the study also examined the ability of sweet taste to reduce pain in the children by measuring the amount of time they could keep their hand submerged in a tub of cold water (10° C / 50° F) while holding either sucrose or water in their mouth.
Are kids using sweet taste to reduce pain?
The sucrose acted as an effective analgesic for the non-depressed children, who kept their hands in the cold water bath for 36 percent longer when holding sucrose in the mouth. However, the researchers found that sucrose had no effect on the pain threshold of children reporting depressive symptoms. These children kept their hand in the cold water bath for the same amount of time regardless of whether they had water or sucrose in their mouths.
"It may be that even higher levels of sweetness are needed to make depressed children feel better," said Mennella in the news release. Citing global initiatives to promote a healthier diet lower in refined sugars, Mennella notes that the current findings highlight the need for additional research to identify whether these clusters of children will require different strategies to help them reduce their intake of sweets.
M. Yanina Pepino, Sara Lehmann-Castor, and Lauren Yourshaw also contributed to the research, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.