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Results from a longitudinal study of parents and their kids conducted by Dr Clarie Farrow from Aston University and her colleagues at Loughborough and Birmingham universities revealed that parents who control their kids with feeding practices such as using food as treat or reward could unintentionally teach their kids to depend on food when dealing with their emotions. There tend to be higher possibilities for these kids to ‘emotionally eat’ later in their childhood.

The research studied how parents used food as well as the different feeding practices that they normally used with their kids (aged between three-to-five). The researchers then followed up to examine whether the earlier feeding practices had affected the development of emotional eating in the kids when they were aged between five and seven.

The researchers observed the kids’ behaviors such us how likely the kids were to eat snacks, or play with toys, when they were slightly stressed but not hungry. The findings revealed that those kids between the ages of five to seven are much more likely to emotionally eat when their parents had relied on using food as treats or were controlling their kids overtly with food when their kids were younger.

With the increase in level of obesity in children and its high association with health risks evidentially revealed at a younger age, learning why some people change to specific types of food when they are stressed could help in suggesting healthier eating practices.

Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Claire Farrow, from Aston University suggests:

“As a parent, there is often a natural instinct to try and protect our young children from eating ‘bad’ foods: those high in fat, sugar or salt.  Instead we often use these food types as a treat or a reward or even as a response to ease pain if children are upset. The evidence from our initial research shows that in doing this, we may be teaching children to use these foods to cope with their different emotions, and in turn unintentionally teaching them to emotionally eat later in life.”

More studies are necessary in order to determine the importance of these conclusions on long-term eating patterns, but early suggestions are that the kid’s relationship with food is typically formed in early life, and in part is taught by the ways that kids are fed and informed to use food.

Dr Farrow continues:

“Eating patterns can usually be tracked across life, so those who learn to use food as a tool to deal with emotional distress early are much more likely to follow a similar pattern of eating later on in adult life. Often when people “emotionally eat” they are using high calorie, high fat, energy dense foods which are not conducive to health. Learning more about how we can teach children to manage their food intake in a healthy way can help us to develop best practice advice and guidelines for families and those involved in feeding children. We know that in adults emotional eating is linked to eating disorders and obesity, so if we can learn more about the development of emotional eating in childhood, we can hopefully develop resources and advice to help prevent the development of emotional eating in children.”

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