Why Do Children Want Snacks?
May 28 2019 Read 971 Times
According to new research from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the snacking behaviors of children are largely influenced by external food cues. The national study offers deeper insight into how external food environments shape the development of eating habits from an early age.
The preliminary study was led by led by Jennifer Emond, MS, PhD and built on previous research suggesting a link between food cues and eating habits. It was titled "Measurement of external food cue responsiveness in preschool-age children: Preliminary evidence for the use of the external food cue responsiveness scale" and aimed to create a short, parent-reported scale designed to measure responsiveness to external food cues in preschoolers.
"A scale to specifically measure responsiveness to external foods is important to understand how aspects of the current obesogenic environment, including exposure to food marketing, may impact a young child's obesity risk," explains Emond.
Tackling the childhood obesity epidemic
Currently, around one in four preschoolers in the USA are classed as overweight or obese. This puts them at chronic risk of developing a series of major health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. For the study, Emond and her team sought to investigate why some children develop unhealthy eating habits and other don't.
They found that food cues, such as watching TV advertisements or walking past a sweet display in the supermarket, can play a significant role in promoting conditioned eating. This encourages children to eat when prompted by external cues, as opposed to waiting for internal and biologically-driven hunger signals.
Swapping biological hunger signals for external cues
Findings were published in the journal Appetite and explain how the team explored the influence of external food cues such as walking past a restaurant, watching other people eat, waiting in checkout aisles at supermarkets, seeing food marketing logos and hearing food wrappers. Results were used to create the External Food Cue Responsiveness Scale, which unlocks new insight into how behavioral responsiveness to external cues can encourage overeating and foster childhood obesity.
"This line of research is important for identifying how aspects of a young child's natural environment, including obesogenic features, may impact eating behaviors during this critical stage of development," asserts Emond.
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