Teaching our children when to eat: how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional eating-a longitudinal experimental design

C. V. Farrow*, E. Haycraft, J. M. Blissett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Emotional eating in children has been related to the consumption of energy-dense foods and obesity, but the development of emotional eating in young children is poorly understood. Objectives: We evaluated whether emotional eating can be induced in 5-7-y-old children in the laboratory and assessed whether parental use of overly controlling feeding practices at 3-5 y of age predicts a greater subsequent tendency for children to eat under conditions of mild stress at ages 5-7 y. Design: Forty-one parent-child dyads were recruited to participate in this longitudinal study, which involved parents and children being observed consuming a standard lunch, completing questionnaire measures of parental feeding practices, participating in a research procedure to induce child emotion (or a control procedure), and observing children's consumption of snack foods. Results: Children at ages 5-7 y who were exposed to a mild emotional stressor consumed significantly more calories from snack foods in the absence of hunger than did children in a control group. Parents who reported the use of more food as a reward and restriction of food for health reasons with their children at ages 3-5 y were more likely to have children who ate more under conditions of negative emotion at ages 5-7 y. Conclusions: Parents who overly control children's food intake may unintentionally teach children to rely on palatable foods to cope with negative emotions. Additional research is needed to evaluate the implications of these findings for children's food intake and weight outside of the laboratory setting. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01122290.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)908-913
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number5
Early online date18 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015

Bibliographical note

© 2015 American Society for Nutrition. This is a free access article, distributed under terms (http://www.nutrition.org/publications/guidelines-and-policies/license/) that permit unrestricted noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Child emotional eating
  • Child feeding
  • Longitudinal
  • Obesity
  • Snack food


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