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Continuity and stability of eating behaviour traits in children



To discover whether eating behaviour traits show continuity and stability over childhood.


Mothers of 428 twin children from the Twins Early Development Study participated in a study of eating and weight in 1999 when the children were 4 years old. Families were contacted again in 2006 when the children were aged 10 years, with complete data on 322 children; a response rate of 75%. At both times, mothers completed the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire (CEBQ) for each child. Continuity was assessed with correlations between scores at the two time points, and stability by changes in mean scores over time.


For all CEBQ subscales, correlations between the two time points were highly significant (P-values <0.001). For satiety responsiveness, slowness in eating, food responsiveness, enjoyment of food, emotional overeating and food fussiness, correlations ranged from r=0.44 to 0.55, with lower continuity for emotional undereating (r=0.29). Over time, satiety responsiveness, slowness in eating, food fussiness, and emotional undereating decreased, while food responsiveness, enjoyment of food and emotional overeating increased.


Eating behaviours, including those associated with a tendency to overeat, emerge early in the developmental pathway and show levels of individual continuity comparable to stable personality traits. Appetitive traits related to higher satiety tended to decrease with maturation, while those associated with food responsiveness tended to increase. This pattern is consistent with strong tracking of body mass index alongside a progressive increase in the risk of obesity.

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This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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Correspondence to J Wardle.

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Contributors: JW had the idea for the study and obtained funding. JA and CS carried out the home visits. JA, CHMvJ and CS participated in analysis of the data. All authors took part in the interpretation of results and drafting the manuscript, and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Ashcroft, J., Semmler, C., Carnell, S. et al. Continuity and stability of eating behaviour traits in children. Eur J Clin Nutr 62, 985–990 (2008).

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  • appetite
  • hunger
  • satiety
  • tracking
  • stability
  • child

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