Children rewarded with food risk becoming ‘emotional eaters’

·2-min read
Child eating
Child eating

Parents who reward children with food or restrict their diet risk their kids becoming “emotional eaters” who use food to regulate their feelings, suggests a new study.

Researchers investigated how various feeding and eating practices used by parents, such as restriction, food as reward, and child involvement can influence the eating behaviour of their children.

The data revealed that emotional eating in teens is more likely with parents who use food as a reward and monitor their diets.

It is even more likely with teens who use eating to regulate their emotions.

Emotional eating, or eating as a coping mechanism for negative, positive, or stress-driven emotions, is associated with unhealthy dietary patterns and weight gain.

But parents who involve their children in their meals have the opposite effect. Being involved helps with emotion regulation and therefore makes teens less likely to emotionally eat.

Those parents who restrained from eating also were linked to less emotional eating in adolescents.

Joanna Klososka, study author, and doctoral researcher in public health and psychology at Ghent University in Belgium, said: “This study examined not only the interaction between parents when feeding their children, but also what children learned from watching their parents eat.”

The findings revealed there was a large increase in emotional eating among teens during this time.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, was conducted in 2017 with 218 families. The researchers also used data collected in 2013.

Between 2013-2017 the children moved from late childhood to middle adolescence.

One parent from each family completed questionnaires to gauge their eating and feeding habits.

Both the parent and their child then answered questions on their eating behaviour.

The researchers measured the teens’ emotion regulation and their weight and height.

They used this information to reach their conclusion that a parent’s eating habits are hugely influential on their children.

Ms Klosowska said: “This study suggests that parents continue to play an important role in their child’s eating behaviour into their teen years.”

She added: “Additional research is needed to understand the impact restrained eating demonstrated by a parent impacts the emotional eating of a child.”