Emotion Identification in Preschool and Early Adolescent Body Mass Index: Exploring the Roles of Depressive Symptoms and Peer Relations

  • Abigail Pine
  • Deanna M. BarchEmail author
  • Joan Luby
  • Diana J. Whalen
Original Article


The ability to identify and label emotions may represent an early-life risk factor that relates to excess weight gain during childhood. The current study investigates the relationships between preschool emotion identification and early adolescent body mass index (BMI), as well as the mediating role of two variables: depressive symptoms and peer relations. In a longitudinal study, preschoolers completed an emotion identification task, and parents completed psychiatric assessments and a peer-relations questionnaire about their child. BMI percentile was measured at later time points in early adolescence. Poor emotion identification during preschool predicted increases in BMI percentile over time, with greater deficits in emotion identification ability relating to steeper increases in BMI percentile across early adolescence. Peer relations in preschool partially mediated the relationship between preschool emotion identification ability and adolescent BMI. This study provides novel information about potential targets for early interventions in the service of obesity prevention.


Emotion identification Depression Peer relations Obesity Preschool 



The authors wish to thank the children, caregivers, and staff of the Preschool Depression Study for their time and dedication to this project. Additionally, the authors wish to thank Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff for her helpful comments and discussion regarding the paper.


All phases of this study were supported by a National Institutes of Health Grant, R01 MH064769-06A1. Dr. Whalen’s work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants: T32 MH100019 (PI’s: Barch and Luby), L30 MH108015 (PI: Whalen) and K23 MH118426 (PI: Whalen).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Human DevelopmentVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychological & Brain SciencesWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.The Program in NeuroscienceWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  5. 5.Department of RadiologyWashington University School of Medicine in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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