Health Risks of Emotional Eating Among Children

Study shows children eat differently based on their emotions and their parents can influence their responses

Emotional eating can get the best of us, if we are not careful. In a new study, researchers at University of Texas at Dallas uncovered it is a problem that has trickled down to our kids as well.

The study showed children eat differently based on their emotions and their parents can influence their responses.

Dr. Shayla C. Holub, who is the head of the psychological sciences PhD program and associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UTD, conducted the study that broke up a group of children into three categories.

After they were fed a meal, one group of students watched a sad video clip of the movie “The Lion King,” anther group watched a happy video clip, and the third group watched a neutral video clip.

After viewing the clips, each group of students were put in a room with different snacks: Goldfish crackers, chocolate cookies and chocolate candy.

“Children ages 4- to 9-years-old ate the most chocolate in response to sad emotions and they also ate a lot of chocolate in response to happy emotions,” Holub said.

Researchers say parents often contribute to emotional eating among kids.

“Kids are seeing their parents eat in response to their own emotions. So when parents don't have the ability to cope with their emotions, they may grab a snack to make them feel better. The kids see that,” she said.

In addition, when a child is fussy, bored or sad, parents will give their child a snack to adjust their mood, which reinforces that emotional response.

To help reverse this behavior parents can switch to healthier snacks and begin to ask their children if their stomachs are empty or full.

“Most children are really pretty good at knowing when they are hungry and full. The problem arises when environmental influences tell them to override those cues," Holub said. "If we remember that food is for nourishment and that we should listen to our internal cues of hunger and fullness, then our kids are less likely to be at risk for being overweight and other eating problems."

Go here to see the full study.

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