Have you ever had a pet dog? If so, you probably understand the process of rewarding your pet with treats for being “good”. When you think about it, your parents probably did the same thing to you when you were “good” at the dentist, the G.P, or if you got A grades at school.
According to a new study, this conditioning of using controlling feeding practices can lead to children relying on food to deal with their emotions later as an adult. Thanks for the terrible incentive program mum.
Dr. Claire Farrow from Aston University and her colleagues at Loughborough and Birmingham Universities studied how parents used food and the different feeding practices they regularly used with children aged from 3 to 5 years old.
Those children were followed up when they were 5 to 7 years old to study whether or not the feeding practices influenced the development of emotional eating. They were assessed as to whether they ate snack foods or played with toys when they were mildly stressed. The results proved that children were likely to “emotionally eat” at this age if they had a reward system based on food when they were younger.
Dr. Claire Farrow concludes the study, “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.”
“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.”