Children eat as directed by their emotions
28th February, 2018: The psychologists of University of Texas
at Dallas have investigated into the effects of emotions on children’s eating
habits and have come out with important insights. They have demonstrated that
children from 4½ to 9 years old chose chocolate candy over goldfish crackers
more frequently in response to both happiness and sadness. The results of their
study are published online in the journal Appetite.
Children were presented with clips from Disney’s The Lion King to create happy, sad and neutral cohorts of children. The kids watching the saddest video ate the most chocolate. There was a significant drop in consumption among the ones watching the happy video, but they still consumed more chocolate than the neutral video group. This suggests that children eat in response to both happy and sad emotions, but more for sadness.
According to Dr. Shayla C. Holub, co- author of the study, children begin with a strong ability to consume the right amount of calories for their energy needs. “If you give preschoolers a snack, they will adjust their meal intake to react appropriately so that they are not too hungry or too full. They know their own body cues.”
However, during the preschool period children begin to think not about what their body is telling them, but instead about what their social environment is telling them. It's during this time that lessons such as eating all the food on the plate or prohibiting certain types of food are frequently introduced.
“Restrictive feeding practices also seem to be problematic -- telling children they can’t have something makes it a preferred food, and when they gain access to it, they immediately eat more of it. That’s another way that children learn to stop listening to their internal cues.”
Dr. Holub emphasizes the importance of setting up healthy trajectories and communicating with our children about how to choose healthy options.