Predictors of Early Emotional Eating
: The Interaction of Parent Factors, Child Individual Differences, and Child Mood State

  • Rebecca Ann Stone

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Emotional eating (EE) in children; the tendency to consume food in response to negative emotions; is associated with the development of childhood obesity. The Biopsychosocial Model suggests child EE arises from interactions between the parent, the child, and the environment. However, no research has yet examined how parent EE, parental feeding practices, and child individual differences interact to predict child EE, particularly in the context of different negative emotions. The overarching aim of this thesis was to explore these relationships during early childhood. In study 1 (N = 244) and study 2 (N = 185) parents completed an online questionnaire. Findings highlighted that the positive relationship between parent EE and child EE was fully mediated by parental emotional feeding and partially mediated by parental use of food as a reward and restriction of food. Further, medium-high child negative affect (study 1) and high child food approach (study 2) moderated these partial mediations. In study 3, 347 parent-child dyads participated in an online experiment study. There were no significant interactions between parent-reported child temperament, parental feeding practices, and child mood state in predicting the number of kilocalories children selected after a mood induction task. In study 4, using a laboratory experimental study with 119 children, children with high parentally reported negative affect, who also had parents who reported high emotional feeding, consumed significantly more kilocalories from sweet foods when experiencing boredom compared to a control group. Finally, in study 5 more objective measures of child temperament were used and children with lower motor impulsivity consumed significantly more kilocalories when experiencing boredom, compared to when experiencing sadness or a neutral mood. This thesis demonstrates that children’s individual differences are key to shaping how much children eat in response to different mood states, alongside influences from parental feeding practices.
Date of AwardSept 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorClaire Farrow (Supervisor), Jackie Blissett (Supervisor) & Emma Haycraft (Supervisor)


  • Emotional eating
  • Eating behaviour
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Temperament
  • Impulsivity
  • Food approach
  • Boredom

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