Calories from doing nothing: Bored children eat more

Calories from doing nothing: Bored children eat more

Bored children eat more, much more, a study shows. Within four minutes, bored children consumed on average about 80% more calories than children in the control group, reports a research team led by Claire Farrow of Aston University in Birmingham in the journal “Food Quality and Preference”.

If children consume that many calories during a single four-minute bout of boredom, the risk of excessive calorie intake over a day, week or year is high.

In certain situations, such as long train or car journeys, it is generally right for children to eat more, says Antje Gahl of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). Parents might even take advantage of this by putting healthy things in the box that might not otherwise be so popular. «The children then eat what they find.» In general it is logical to take especially healthy things such as fruit and vegetables with you when traveling; a small candy bar or a handful of gummy bears are also fine.

Nutritional behavior is largely shaped during childhood.

Antje GahlGerman Society for Nutrition (DGE)

Aside from these rare situations, children should not eat out of boredom or for comfort in everyday life, Gahl explained. This can lead to harmful habits that last into adulthood. “Eating behavior is largely shaped during childhood.”

There is a temptation to use food to calm children, explained study leader Farrow. But this behavior, known as emotional eating, could lead children to later respond to negative emotions with food even as adults, he also warned. “It is important for parents and caregivers to understand that this short-term solution could cause problems in the future.”

In the British experiment, around 120 four- and five-year-olds were divided into groups. Everyone was promised that they could do a puzzle and then receive a small gift.

Some children – the bored group – first had to sit at the table and wait a few minutes. Each of these children had to wait another four minutes, but could now help themselves to snacks such as biscuits, crisps and carrot sticks or play with toys. Only then could they do the puzzle.

Sweets to calm you down

In the other children, the control group, boredom was not triggered by waiting times. They solved the puzzle right away, then had the choice of using the snack bowls or playing for four minutes.

The children in the “boredom” group consumed an average of 42 kilocalories – almost 80% – more in the four-minute snack period compared to the children in the control group. The effect was especially noticeable when parents regularly used sweets in their daily lives to calm or keep their children occupied.

Conditions such as “Vegetables first, then something sweet” or taking away sweets as punishment should be avoided, as should snacking in front of the TV. “It’s easy to lose control, and the same goes for an adult watching TV.” The key is to eat together, where cell phones etc. they are banned from the table, Gahl says. In this and many other situations, parents should be aware that they are role models for their children when it comes to nutrition, for better or for worse. (dpa)

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