Children given sweets when they are good are the most likely to end up fat and unhappy
Children whose parents given them food to reward good behaviour are more likely to become obese adults, a study has found.
A poll of more than 2,000 people has found those given edible treats in childhood for behaving well had a higher chance of becoming heavily overweight, or of developing an eating disorder, than those who were not.
Those who recalled being regularly given food as a reward were four times as likely to have been overweight since childhood than those whose parents did not use snacks to endorse good conduct, the research found.
They were also twice as likely to feel unhappy about their weight, and twice as likely to have tried starving themselves or making themselves sick, according to the research carried out for diet company Slimming World.
Among those who grew up being given food as a reward, 34 per cent were now obese, compared with 25pc among those who did not recall snacks being used in such a way.
In total, 25pc of those given snacks to endorse good behaviour said they had been overweight since childhood, compared with pc of the group whose parents did not use food to thank their children.
The figures come amid concern over Britain’s obesity epidemic. The latestfigures show that 24 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women in England and Wales are obese - meaning their Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or higher - while 44 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women are officially overweight, with a BMI between 25 and 30.
Obesity researcher Dr James Stubbs said too many parents used food to reward children for being good, as well as to comfort them when things went wrong.
He said: “The occasional sweet or treat isn’t going to cause children problems in the future, even if those treats aren’t particularly healthy. It’s when parents repeatedly use high calorie foods as a quick default way to reward their children or to appease them when they’re upset that they begin storing up future problems for them.
“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.”
Next week the slimming company is launching a campaign to encourage community groups to lose weight together.
But nutrition expert Fiona Kirk said attitudes to food were complex, and that people who thought of food being used as a treat, might be betraying their own early attitudes, as well as the intentions of their parents.
Equally, children who felt “deprived” of treats could end up developing a poor relationship with their diet, she said.
The author said: “Children who are put on very healthy diets, and end up taking lentils to school can often feel as though they are missing out, whereas those given the odd bar of chocolate may be less likely to see food as a problem.”