The relationship between social anxiety, disordered eating, and physical activity in overweight and obese individuals
Wright, Natania D.
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Studies have found high comorbidity between social anxiety and eating disorders. Social anxiety has also been associated with exercise avoidance. This study examined the relationship between social anxiety, disordered eating, and exercise in an overweight and obese population. Using an internet based survey, overweight and obese men and women (N = 231) completed self-report measures of social anxiety, social physique anxiety, emotional eating, binge eating, restrained eating, exercise frequency and intensity, body dissatisfaction, positive and negative affect, depression, general anxiety, and low self-esteem. Social anxiety was significantly associated with emotional eating (r = .46, p < .01; beta = 0.36, p < .01) and binge eating (r = .36, p < .01; OR = 1.06, CI = 1.02 - 1.10) but not restrained eating. Individuals with Binge Eating Disorder reported significantly higher levels of social anxiety than other participants (F (2, 214) = 19.36,p < .01). While social physique anxiety was correlated with emotional eating (r = .39, p < .01) and binge eating (r = .18, p < .05), this association did not remain significant after controlling for covariates. Binge eaters reported significantly higher levels of social physique anxiety than non-binge eaters, but less social physique anxiety than those with Binge Eating Disorder (F (2, 212) = 4.08, p < .02). Social anxiety and social physique anxiety were not associated with exercise frequency, but were associated with a measure of exercise avoidance (r = .46, p < .01; r = .53, p < .01). In this study, social anxiety was associated with disordered overeating and exercise avoidance, potentially impeding one's best efforts at reaching a healthy weight. Weight loss interventions should address social anxiety and social physique anxiety when relevant. Targeting psychological barriers to normative eating patterns and exercise is a necessary step towards reducing the growing rates of obesity in this country.