Comforting children with candy can cause long-term pain

27 April 2017

That sweet lolly may potentially lead to a habit of emotional eating.

It may be simple to ease an upset child with a piece of candy or a treat.

But that sweet lolly may come at a cost in the future, potentially leading to a habit of emotional eating.

In a new study, researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King's College London, University College London and the University of Leeds have found that school-age children whose parents fed them more to soothe their negative feelings were more likely to eat emotionally later on.

The reverse was also found to be the case, with parents of children who were more easily soothed by food being more likely to feed them for emotional reasons.

"We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down," stated co-author Professor Lars Wichstrom. "Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters."

For the analysis, researchers examined emotional feeding and eating in a representative group of over 800 Norwegian four-year-olds, looking at these issues further down the line at ages six, eight, and 10.

Approximately 65 percent of the children displayed some emotional eating, and it was also found those young children whose parents offered them food for comfort at ages four and six had more emotional eating at ages six and 10.

The opposite was also true, as parents whose offspring were quickly comforted by food were more likely to offer them edible treats to make them feel better. Thus, emotional feeding increased emotional eating, and emotional eating increased emotional feeding.

Accordingly, study authors suggest that instead of offering children food to appease them when they are sad or upset, parents and other caregivers should try to calm youngsters by talking, offering a hug, or soothing in ways that don't involve food.

The full study has been published in journal Child Development.

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