Early life influences on the development of food addiction in college attending young adults

Rachel A. Wattick, Melissa D. Olfert, Elizabeth Claydon, Rebecca L. Hagedorn-Hatfield, Makenzie L. Barr, Cassie Brode

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose: There is little investigation into the causes of food addiction. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of early life influences on the development of food addiction in college-attending young adults aged 18–29. Methods: This study utilized a sequential explanatory mixed-methods research design. College-attending young adults were invited to complete an online survey measuring Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), food addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, and demographic information. Correlations between food addiction and the other variables were analyzed and significant variables were placed into a nominal logistic regression model to predict the development of food addiction. Participants who met the criteria for food addiction were invited to participate in interviews to examine their childhood eating environment and when their symptoms emerged. Interviews were transcribed and thematically analyzed. Quantitative analysis was conducted using JMP Pro Version 16.0 and qualitative analysis was conducted using NVIVO Software Version 12.0. Results: Survey respondents (n = 1645) had an overall 21.9% prevalence of food addiction. Significant correlations were observed between food addiction and ACEs, depression, anxiety, stress, and sex (p <.01 for all). Depression was the only significant predictor of the development of food addiction (OR = 3.33 95% CI 2.19, 5.05). The most common eating environment described by interview participants (n = 36) was an emphasis on diet culture, ideal body image, and restrictive environments. Symptoms frequently emerged after transitioning into college and having the ability to make their own food choices. Conclusion: These results show the impact of early life eating environments and young adulthood mental health on the development of food addiction. These findings contribute to the understanding of underlying causes of food addiction. Level of evidence: Level V, Opinions of authorities, based on descriptive studies, narrative reviews, clinical experience, or reports of expert committees.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalEating and Weight Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • ACEs
  • College student
  • Food addiction
  • Mixed-methods
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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