Study looks at emotional eating in childhood

Research studies carried out in the School have shown how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating.

The research team, led by Dr Jackie Blissett, carried out a number of studies examining the development of emotional eating in children. Emotional eating is defined as the use of food to regulate negative emotion; many people eat calorie dense, sweet and fatty foods to alleviate boredom, stress or loneliness, and it is a risk factor for the development of obesity.

In one particular study, the team examined whether parental use of restrictive feeding practices and use of food as a reward at ages 3-5 years had an effect on children’s emotional eating two years later. Parents and their children came to the laboratory for lunch, and then children either completed a mildly stressful task or a neutral (control) task. The children were then left for four minutes with access to a range of snack foods, and the team measured how much food they ate from these snacks given that they were not hungry. The study found that children who were exposed to a mild emotional stressor consumed significantly more calories from snack foods than did children in a control group. In particular, the children of parents who used more food as a reward and restriction with their children at ages 3–5 years ate significantly more under conditions of negative emotion.

The findings suggest that these controlling feeding practices unintentionally teach children to rely on palatable foods to cope with negative emotions.

Reference:
Farrow, Haycraft, & Blissett (2015). Teaching our children when to eat: how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating—a longitudinal experimental design. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103713. Read the full article

Read more on this topic

Jackie Blissett, Claire Farrow and Emma Haycraft have written an article in The Conversation, in which they comment that parents should consider the effects of not just what they feed their children, but how. Read The Conversation article...

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