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Background: Obesity has been associated with higher rates of social anxiety, and social anxiety has been linked to increased emotional eating. We hypothesized that reductions in BMI and social anxiety following bariatric surgery would predict decreases in negative emotional eating.

Methods: Participants were 206 bariatric weight loss surgery patients who completed self-report questionnaires. Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) scores measured social anxiety. Scores from the negative emotion subscale in the Emotional Appetite Questionnaire (EMAQ) reflected eating due to negative emotions. BMI was calculated from self-report data. All data were collected shortly preceding surgery and at 1-year post surgery.

Results: Multiple regression was performed to examine whether changes in BMI and social anxiety predicted changes in negative emotional eating. BMI, social anxiety scores and negative emotional eating decreased significantly 1-year post surgery. Changes in BMI did not significantly predict changes in negative emotional eating. Decreases in social anxiety, however, did predict decreases in negative emotional eating following bariatric surgery, even when controlling for changes in BMI, p = .001.

Conclusions: These research findings suggest that there may be behavioral benefits to bariatric surgery when psychosocial improvements occur, independent of weight loss. It would be worthwhile to test whether targeting social anxiety helps reduce negative emotional eating in obese participants.


Presented at ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts, November 6, 2014.

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