Food-treat tactic ‘can cause life of problems’

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Parents who hand their children food to quieten them down could be setting them up for a lifetime of weight problems, a new study has revealed.

The widely-used tactic can lead to a bad diet in adulthood, low self-esteem, comfort-eating and eating disorders. It will also teach children to use food as a “source of solace” which fills an emotional void, research has suggested.

According to the study, those who recalled receiving food as a reward during childhood were more likely to have an obese BMI than those who were not given such handouts – some 34 per cent compared with 25 per cent.

They were also significantly more likely to have a history of dieting; have tried extreme weight loss methods; see food as a preoccupation and a temptation; and eat high calorie foods to help them deal with feelings of stress.

While occasional unhealthy treats are not linked to problems in later life, obesity researcher Dr James Stubbs warned of the dangers associated with relying on food as a parenting aid.

“It’s when parents repeatedly use high calorie foods as a quick way to appease their children when they’re upset or to quieten them down when they misbehave that they begin storing up future problems for them,” he said.

“In these instances, parents can unwittingly create an association in the minds of their children that leads to them using high calorie foods as a way to make themselves feel better right into adulthood, where the link becomes even more deeply ingrained”.