Researchers warn against calming upset children with food, as this practice can cause a maturing child to develop unhealthy eating patterns. Put simply, parents who are “emotional feeders” tend to raise “emotional eaters.”
Researches in Norway conducted a study involving 800 four-year-old children—checking in on them again when they were six, eight and 10. The results of the study showed kids offered food for comfort at ages four and six displayed more emotional eating at ages eight and ten.
Researchers also found that parents who know that food calms their children will feed them comfort foods for that reason.
“Emotional feeding increases emotional eating and vice versa,” said Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim who was the study’s lead author.”
Researchers confirm that relying on junk food, desserts and sugary foods for comfort leads to overeating, and—sometimes more seriously—eating disorders such as binge-eating and bulimia.
There is now even stronger evidence that a parent’s feeding styles greatly affects their children’s dietary habits—especially when it comes to food and beverages in relation to addressing emotions. Parents can unintentionally condition their children to eat sweets and other comfort foods to avoid feeling certain emotions.
Melissa Cunningham Kay, a research assistant with the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health said, “feeling sad or angry are normal emotions. Rather than using food as a distraction from them, children should be taught to tolerate them and find other ways to cope.”
Guilherme Yagui, CC-BY
Elizabeth Chambers is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia.