Children's emotional eating is related to greater body mass index and a less-healthy diet, but little is known about the early development of this behavior.
This study aimed to examine the relations between preschool children's emotional eating and parental feeding practices by using experimental manipulation of child mood and food intake in a laboratory setting.
Twenty-five 3-5-y-old children and their mothers sat together and ate a standard meal to satiety. Mothers completed questionnaires regarding their feeding practices. Children were assigned to a control or negative mood condition, and their consumption of snack foods in the absence of hunger was measured.
Children whose mothers often used food to regulate emotions ate more cookies in the absence of hunger than did children whose mothers used this feeding practice infrequently, regardless of condition. Children whose mothers often used food for emotion regulation purposes ate more chocolate in the experimental condition than in the control condition. The pattern was reversed for children of mothers who did not tend to use food for emotion regulation. There were no significant effects of maternal use of restriction, pressure to eat, and use of foods as a reward on children's snack food consumption.
Children of mothers who use food for emotion regulation consume more sweet palatable foods in the absence of hunger than do children of mothers who use this feeding practice infrequently. Emotional overeating behavior may occur in the context of negative mood in children whose mothers use food for emotion regulation purposes. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01122290.