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Are Parents Responsible for Children’s Food Addiction?


(Children’s Relationship With Food Series Pt. 1) Are You, as Parents, Responsible for Your Children’s Food Addiction?

Are You Unknowingly Fostering A Food Addiction In Your Children?

There is an increasing prevalence of food addiction among children and the impact it has on their overall health and well-being. While there are so many factors contributing to this issue, one crucial aspect that often goes unnoticed is the role of parents in shaping their children’s relationship with food.

It’s so easy as adults to look back at what contributed to our relationship with food (whether it be positive or negative). So, gaining awareness around our food patterns when it comes to our children is ultimately to their benefit.

In this blog post, we will explore three common practices that many parents often fall back on – using food as a reward, using food as a consequence, and forcing eating – and discuss their potential impact on fostering food addiction in children. Let’s dive in!

Using Food as a Reward

It’s no secret that children love treats and rewards, and many parents resort to using food as a way to motivate or reward their children’s behavior (“If you get a good grade on your test, we will get ice cream!”) However, this practice can unknowingly pave the way for food addiction. By associating food with positive experiences and emotions, children learn to rely on food for comfort, pleasure, and validation.

Statistics reveal that this practice is alarmingly common. A study published in Pediatrics found that 80% of parents use food as a reward for their children. Furthermore, research has shown that children who are frequently rewarded with food are more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with it, leading to higher rates of obesity and other related health issues.

Using Food as a Consequence

On the flip side, using food as a consequence for misbehavior or as a means of control can be equally detrimental. Denying or restricting certain foods as punishment (“If you aren’t going to behave, you won’t get dessert.”) can create an unhealthy relationship with food, leading to an increased desire for forbidden items and potentially triggering emotional eating.

Research suggests that this practice is more prevalent than we might think. According to a study published in Appetite, nearly 35% of parents reported using food as a consequence for their children’s behavior. It is important to understand that food should not be used as a tool to control or manipulate children’s actions, as it can foster an unhealthy reliance on food for emotional regulation.

Forcing Eating

Many parents adopt the notion of “cleaning the plate” or forcing their children to stay at the table until they finish their meal. While the intention might be to ensure proper nutrition or to avoid food waste, this approach can have unintended consequences. (“Not everyone gets to eat dinner each evening – make sure you finish up every last bite!”) Forcing children to eat when they are not hungry can disrupt their natural hunger and fullness cues, leading to an inability to self-regulate food intake.

Statistics indicate that this practice is relatively common. In a study published in Eating Behaviors, approximately 40% of parents reported using coercion to encourage their children to eat. This can create a power struggle around mealtimes, instilling negative associations with food and potentially contributing to disordered eating patterns or food addiction later in life.

As parents, it is essential to reflect on our practices and their potential impact on our children’s relationship with food. While the responsibility for food addiction cannot solely be placed on parents, it is so important to recognize that our actions play a significant role in shaping our children’s behaviors and attitudes toward eating.

Instead of using food as a reward or punishment, we can explore alternative ways to celebrate achievements or address misbehavior. Encouraging a diverse range of non-food rewards and consequences can help establish healthier associations for our children.

Similarly, allowing children to develop a sense of autonomy and self-regulation around eating can foster a positive relationship with food. Trusting their internal hunger and fullness cues empowers them to make mindful choices and reduces the risk of developing food addiction. The earlier you can start working on these positive habits, the better!

Ultimately, as parents, we must strive to create a supportive food environment that promotes balance, variety, and moderation. By being mindful of our practices, we can help our children develop a healthy relationship with food, setting them up for a lifetime of nourishment and well-being.


  • Francis, L. A., Hofer, S. M., & Birch, L. L. (2001). Predictors of maternal child-feeding style: maternal and child characteristics. Appetite, 37(3), 231-243.
  • Faith, M. S., Scanlon, K. S., Birch, L. L., Francis, L. A., & Sherry, B. (2004). Parent-child feeding strategies and their relationships to child eating and weight status. Obesity research, 12(11), 1711-1722.
  • Galloway, A. T., Fiorito, L. M., Francis, L. A., & Birch, L. L. (2006). ‘Finish your soup’: Counterproductive effects of pressuring children to eat on intake and affect. Appetite, 46(3), 318-323.
  • Ventura, A. K., & Birch, L. L. (2008). Does parenting affect children’s eating and weight status?. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 15.

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