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Using Food as Reward Could Promote Obesity

food as reward could promote obesity

You see it quite often: parents who give their young children food (cookies, candy, chips) as a reward, a treat, an incentive to stop bad behavior, or to ease a bruised knee or other pain. Researchers from several universities in the United Kingdom have found that parents who use food in stressful or emotional situations may be setting their children up for emotional eating later in life, a practice that can result in overweight or obesity.


Emotional eating has become commonplace in today’s society. That is evidenced by our acceptance and even celebration of “comfort foods,” such as macaroni and cheese, ice cream, potato chips, cookies, and chocolate, all of which are high in fat and calories. You would be hard pressed to find examples of ads or people promoting apples, kale, or carrots as comfort foods.

The findings of a new study indicate that parents who give their kids sweets or similar foods in certain circumstances are unknowingly setting up their young children for eating behaviors that can prove to be detrimental later in life. According to Dr. Claire Farrow from Aston University, and her colleagues at Birmingham and Loughborough universities, parents who used food as a reward or treat when their kids were three to five years old were more likely to have five- to seven-year-olds who had emotional eating issues.

Food as reward study
Investigators looked at how parents used food during different stressful or emotional situations when their children were three to five years old. A follow-up segment was conducted when the same children were five to seven years old to see whether their earlier exposure to certain food practices by their parents had any impact on emotional eating.

The investigators found that children were much more likely to engage in emotional eating than play with toys at ages 5 to 7 if their parents had used food as a reward or treat when their kids were younger. Such a finding could be important when analyzing the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and the associated serious health risks.

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Dr. Farrow noted that the use of foods high in sugar, fat, or salt to ease the emotional tribulations or physical pain of young children “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.”

Experts have already seen that emotional eating among adults is associated with obesity and eating disorders. If the findings of this latest study bear out in future research, they may help parents and health professionals alike develop strategies to prevent the development of emotional eating in young children and the possibility of future obesity.

Also Read: Children need more sleep to prevent obesity
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Aston University

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