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Negative emotions influence kids' poor food choices, study finds

Researchers say there are certain times of the day when poor eating is more likely to happen

Child taking cookie from jar
Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
Parents of picky eaters often have to work around their kids' palates to get them the nutrition they need. But findings from a recent study show that catering to their emotional needs might also do the trick. 

Researchers have found that a child's emotions can influence their eating patterns and diets. Specifically, they say negative emotions can be linked to overeating and choosing unhealthy foods.

"We found fried food consumption to be higher on days with more variable emotional patterns than days with consistent low negative mood," said Christine Hotaru Naya from the University of Southern California. "These results align with other studies that have found the negative mood to positively predict children's fatty food intake."

Negative emotions linked to poor eating

The researchers surveyed nearly 200 young children in California through the use of a mobile app. The participants were asked several times a day how they felt emotionally and what foods they consumed.

By the end of the study period, the researchers identified several negative mood patterns that contributed to poor eating. They found that the children experienced at least one of those patterns -- stable low negative mood -- on 90% of the days of the study. 

Breaking it down by the time of day, the team said early in the morning and during the evening were two vulnerable times when negative emotions could influence kids' food choices. 

"Children are more likely to consume unhealthy foods on weekends when meals and snacks are less structured and supervised than on school days," added Naya. 

"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."

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