Study examines emotional eating in children

Study reveals what role parents play

TROY, Mich. – There's nothing like an ice cream cone to turn a child's frown upside down.

But if your child consistently eats more when he or she is sad, angry, or upset, it can take a toll.

A study out of Norway found school-aged children who are easily comforted by food had parents who were more likely to soothe them with food.

"There's risk involved because when we're emotionally eating, we're most often going to those calorically dense foods that we maybe don't eat all the time, or that make us feel good, said Dr. Jaime Taylor, an adolescent medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital.

Taylor is not surprised by the new research that suggests some parents may unintentionally be encouraging this habit in their children.

"If children are easily soothed by food, we're more likely to feed them food because it makes them feel better, which then, in turn, makes us feel better," Taylor said. "If we are soothing children with food, it's not surprising then that as older children and young adults, they would be more likely to eat when they're feeling poorly."

Down the road, that habit can put them at risk for weight gain or eating disorders.

Taylor suggested instead of reaching for food to comfort kids, take a walk together or do another activity to take their mind off their troubles.

Learning breathing techniques or listening to music may also help.

Taylor said it's also essential to be sure that you're addressing your own emotions in a healthy way.

"Parents' most important job as they're raising their children in all aspects is to model the behavior that you hope that your children will adopt," Taylor said. "So helping them to see that there are other options outside of eating to managing the way that you feel."

So what about eating in celebration?

"We believe that moderation is key," Taylor said. "So making sure that you're enjoying all foods in moderation at all times. So you don't only have cake for birthday parties. You have cake for other celebrations, and it's OK to eat cake. Maybe not every day, maybe not when you're feeling down. Maybe there's another coping skill that you use. But certainly using food for celebrations has been historically something we've done."