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Study Reveals Why so Many Kids Eat Emotionally

Who knew cheddar bunnies made terrible therapists?

It turns out kids struggle with obesity from emotional eating just like adults, and a new longitudinal study out of Norway has attempted to figure out why. Researchers specifically looked at which children were more prone to emotional eating: Those who were fed more by their parents or those who were easily soothed by food. What the findings suggest is that it’s a cycle that — for lack of a less punny phrase — feeds on itself.

Published today in the journal Child Development, the study surveyed the parents (a majority of them mothers) of 801 Norwegian 4-year-olds and reassessed them again at ages 6, 8, and 10. Results of the questionnaires revealed that 65 percent of the kids ate emotionally to some degree, but ages 4 and 6 were the most crucial for predicting emotional eating patterns later in life. Parents who offered more food for comfort during that time reported more emotional eating at ages 8 and 10. Likewise, children who were comforted by food more effectively also experienced more emotional eating years later. Essentially, emotional eating increased emotional feeding — and emotional feeding increased emotional eating.

child eating messy ice cream bar

It’s important to note that this data is only based on children from Norway. Super-sizing this study would theoretically be a very American thing to do. However, the results still indicate an entire box of cheddar bunnies isn’t the best therapy and researchers recommend parents consider comforting kids in ways that are not food based — especially in earlier years when these self-soothing habits are formed. When they’re upset, give them a hug instead. Hopefully the tears will satisfy their salt cravings.