Belgian researchers recently explored the roots of emotional eating and found surprising results. Children as young as five will turn to food when they are anxious or stressed. The Belgian team asked more than 300 children who were between the ages of five and ten about their lives. The parents also answered questions in a questionnaire about how often their children ate certain foods.
The results certainly showed a correlation between the stress in a child’s life and the sweets they ate. Researcher Nathalie Michels of Ghent University also showed that levels of the hormone cortisol rose as the stress did.
As a result of the study, Dr. Michels is encouraging schools and parents to teach children how to cope with stress. As she said, “Parents and children should be made aware that stress can influence emotional eating behavior, so they can pay attention to potential triggers and anticipate this behavior. Furthermore, children should be equipped with stress-coping skills, such as problem-solving or asking for help, instead of seeking solace in food.”
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Adding to the discussion, Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said, “From the moment that an infant is born it learns that sweetness brings comfort. It should therefore be of no surprise that it is sophisticated enough, even by age five, to know that it’ll feel better about some unhappy event having eaten a chocolate biscuit or something sugary.”