With the high levels of obesity in children, and its associated health risks being increasingly evident at a younger age, understanding why certain people turn to particular types of food at times of stress or anxiety could help in encouraging healthier eating practices.
Dr Claire Farrow, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Aston University, comments:
“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 research needs to be done to identify the significance of these findings on eating patterns long-term, but early indications are that the relationship children have with food is often formed early in life, and in part is informed by the ways that children are fed and taught to use food.
Dr Farrow concludes:
“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.”
Source: Aston University