Children's Unhealthy Food Choices Related To Negative Emotion, Study Shows

There’s new evidence that children’s unhealthy food choices could be influenced by negative emotions.

This is according to a new study featured in the Journal of Education and Behavior, which found that negative emotions in children lead to excessive calorie intake and poor diet quality, especially during weekends.

The study, published by Elsevier, sampled 195 ethnically diverse children from third through sixth grades living in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. The children were tasked to use a mobile phone app, where they had to answer research questions seven times per day.

The children were asked if they were feeling any negative emotion like stress, anger, or sadness. They were also asked to report if they ate anything unhealthy, including fried food, sweets, and sugary beverages in the last two hours.

Based on collected data, the participants ate sweet food the most. Children reported consuming sweets or pastries at least once daily on 40% of the days. Meanwhile, chips or fries were consumed at least once a day on 30% of the days, and sugary beverages were drank at least once a day on 25% of the days.

The researchers identified three negative mood patterns daily: stable low, early increasing and late decreasing, and early decreasing and late increasing.

“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,” said Christine Hotaru Naya, MPH, Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

According to the researchers, the findings add evidence for incorporating mood and emotion-based components into interventions designed to improve children’s eating habits.

“We could improve our current interventions to be individually tailored to the environmental, social, emotional, and cognitive contexts in which unhealthy eating occurs,” added Naya, who believes the findings provide a good start to recognizing how to best approach food choices with a person’s mood and emotions in mind.

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