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Appetite. 2012 Dec;59(3):762-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.08.010. Epub 2012 Aug 20.

Stress, emotional eating behaviour and dietary patterns in children.

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Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185, 2 Blok A, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Psychological stress has been suggested to change dietary pattern towards more unhealthy choices and as such to contribute to overweight. Emotional eating behaviour could be an underlying mediating mechanism. The interrelationship between stress, emotional eating behaviour and dietary patterns has only rarely been examined in young children. Nevertheless, research in children is pivotal as the foundations of dietary habits are established starting from childhood and may track into adulthood. In 437 children (5-12years) of the ChiBS study, stress was measured by questionnaires on stressful events, emotions (happy, angry, sad, anxious) and problems (emotional, peer, conduct and hyperactivity). Data were collected on children's emotional eating behaviour and also on dietary patterns: frequency of fatty foods, sweet foods, snacks (fat and sweet), fruit and vegetables. Stressful events, negative emotions and problems were positively associated with emotional eating. Positive associations were observed between problems and both sweet and fatty foods consumption. Negative associations were observed between events and fruit and vegetables consumption. Overall, stress was associated with emotional eating and a more unhealthy dietary pattern and could thus contribute to the development of overweight, also in children. Nevertheless, emotional eating behaviour was not observed to mediate the stress-diet relation.

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