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When children's food choices are linked to their mood

According to a new study, it isn't just adults who eat their feelings. Children do, too, especially over weekends

Children turn to unhealthy food when upset
Children turn to unhealthy food when upset (Unsplash)

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Does your child turn to chocolate after a bad week at school? Do they ask for a soda or milkshake after a fight with their bestie? Are they likely to reach out to the cookie jar if they've failed a test or lost a competition?

If you see these signs, it is worth looking at them closer. While emotional eating in adults has been well-documented, it turns out that children, too, reach out for unhealthy food when they are upset. According to a report published in ANI, the emotional context in which eating occurs has been thought to influence eating patterns and diet, with studies finding negative emotions predict excessive calorie intake and poor die" quality."A research article discusses how children's unhealthy food choices, especially over weekends, are related to emotion," reported the news agency.

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Christine Hotaru Naya, MPH, Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, told ANI that children are more likely to consume unhealthy foods on weekends when meals and snacks are less structured and supervised than on school days. "We also focused on snack choices where children often make their own decisions," she said. 

ANI reported that the study sampled 195 ethnically-diverse children currently in third through sixth grades who lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. The children were contacted seven times per day to answer questions related to their mood and food choices using a mobile phone app."When contacted, they were asked if they were feeling stressed, mad or sad and report if they had made any unhealthy eating choices from among fried foods, sweets, and sugary beverages over the previous two hours," said ANI.

Sweets, not surprisingly, were the most common "unhealthy" food consumed with sugar-laden items reported eaten at least once daily on 40% of the days."Chips or fries were eaten at least once a day on nearly 30% of days, and sugar-sweetened beverages were consumed at least once per day on 25% of days," according to the study. 

ANI also reported that researchers identified three negative mood patterns during a day: stable low; early increasing and late decreasing, and early decreasing and late increasing. "In the study, on 90% of the days, children reported stable low negative mood, but the reminder had varying moods throughout the day," said ANI.

Naya also told the agency that researchers found fried food consumption to be higher on days with more variable emotional patterns than days with consistent low negative moods. Sweets and soda, however, did not follow this pattern. "These results align with other studies that have found the negative mood to positively predict children's fatty food intake," said Naya. 

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These findings clearly imply that there is a need to take mood and emotions into account while planning nutritional interventions. "This is a good start on that path to recognizing how to approach food choices with a person's mood and emotions in mind," Naya told ANI."We could improve our current interventions to be individually tailored to the environmental, social, emotional, and cognitive contexts in which unhealthy eating occurs." 

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