Emotions play important role when children are deciding which food to eat, study finds

A new study has found that children are more likely to opt for fried food when experiencing changes in their emotions.

The findings, from the University of Southern California, show that how children are feeling has an impact on whether they opt for healthy food or not, with the researchers saying that a person’s emotional state must be a consideration when designing interventions aimed at addressing unhealthy eating habits.

The team looked at the eating habits of 195 children aged from eight to 12 living in the Los Angeles area. They were asked at different points of the day about their mood and whether they had opted for any unhealthy food, including fried food, sugary drinks or sweets.

Recording the frequency of unhealthy food options, researchers found that:

  • Sweets or pastries were eaten at least once a day on 40% of the days
  • Crisps or chips were eaten at least once a day on nearly 30% of days
  • Sugary drinks were drank at least once per day on 25% of days.

When quizzed about their emotional state, children reported a stable low negative mood on 90% of the days, with changing moods during the remaining time.

Christine Hotaru Naya, from the university’s Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, said: “We found fried food consumption to be higher on days with more variable emotional patterns than days with consistent low negative mood. These results align with other studies that have found the negative mood to positively predict children’s fatty food intake.”

However, sweet food and sugary drinks did not follow the same pattern as fried food.

The study also found that mornings and evenings are times when changes in emotions could mean that children are more likely to make unhealthy food choices.

Ms Naya added: “More studies are needed for us to understand the relationship between a child’s emotions and their food choices, but this is a good start on that path to recognizing how to approach food choices with a person’s mood and emotions in mind.

“We could improve our current interventions to be individually tailored to the environmental, social, emotional, and cognitive contexts in which unhealthy eating occurs.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.



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