New study links emotional feeding in young children to emotional eating later in life

May 8th, 2017

A new study suggests there may be a link between the common parenting practice known as emotional feeding, or using food as a means of comforting or rewarding children, and the development later in life of emotional eating, or the habit of eating to comfort or reward oneself.

A team of researchers based in Norway examined the eating habits of a group of 4-year-olds in Norway and followed up every two years until the subjects turned 10.

The scientists found that among the 801 children they examined, there was a “reciprocal relation between parental emotional feeding and child emotional eating,” the study abstract reads.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief women’s health correspondent, discussed the warning for parents live on “Good Morning America” today, saying that with any parenting technique, you want to lead by example.

“There are some good habits that we can establish in childhood, like … eating as a family,” which she said has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity. She also recommended that parents “avoid using food as punishment or a reward, and you want to talk about your emotions.”

Emotional feeding and emotional eating are not necessarily linked to hunger.

The association between emotional feeding in young children and emotional eating in school-age children was only weakly positive but remains statistically significant.

The study said that association may have important implications later, since analysis also revealed a connection between emotional eating and children’s body mass index, a measure of whether a person’s weight is appropriate for his or her height.

By Catherine Thorbecke