Duration of breastfeeding is associated with emotional eating through its effect on alexithymia in boys, but not girls

Tatjana van Strien*, Roseriet Beijers, Sanny Smeekens, Laura H.H. Winkens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Emotional eating (EE), or eating in response to negative emotions, was earlier shown to be associated with difficulty in identifying emotions (alexithymia). To improve our understanding of possible causes of alexithymia and EE, we assessed possible associations with duration of breastfeeding in infancy. The aim of the present study was to examine in a prospective, longitudinal study whether duration of breastfeeding is associated with EE in adolescence, through its effect on alexithymia difficulty identifying emotions, and whether this mediation effect is contingent on gender. Our hypothesis was that longer duration of breastfeeding would be associated with lower EE in adolescence through its effect on lower alexithymia difficulty identifying feelings in boys but not in girls (Moderated mediation). The sample included 129 children and their families (67 boys and 62 girls). Duration of breastfeeding was reported by the mother when the infant was 15 months old. Alexithymia difficulty identifying feelings (Toronto Alexithymia Scale) and EE (Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire) were reported by the child at 12 years of age. EE was also reported by the child at 16 years of age. Moderated mediation was significant for EE at 12 years, and borderline significant for EE at 16 years. As hypothesized, for boys but not for girls, longer duration of breastfeeding was related to less difficulties in identifying feelings, resulting in lower degrees of EE in adolescence. It is concluded that breastfeeding in infancy may protect boys against EE through its positive association with better ability to identify feelings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
Early online date10 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Alexithymia
  • Breastfeeding
  • Emotional eating
  • Longitudinal
  • Sex-differences


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