1. Study suggests you are what you think you eat

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) press release:

    Despite eating the same breakfast, made from the same ingredients, people consumed more calories throughout the day when they believed that one of the breakfasts was less substantial than the other.

    The research, funded by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services at the Rowett Institute, is the key finding of research led by Steven Brown from Sheffield Hallam University which is being presented today at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology.

    Previous studies have investigated the link between how filling we expect liquids (e.g. drinks) or semi-solids (e.g. smoothies/soups) to be and people’s subsequent feelings of hunger up to three hours later.

    These initial expectations have also been shown to be an important determinant of how much people eat at a meal provided a short time later. The current research shows that a similar effect can be seen when using solid foods (i.e. an omelette) and that the influence of those expectations is still present after a longer period of time (four hours later and the total day’s calorific intake).

    A total of 26 participants took part. Over two visits, participants believed they were eating either a two or four egg omelette for breakfast. However, both of the omelettes actually contained three eggs.

    When the participants believed that the omelette was smaller they reported themselves to be significantly hungrier after two hours, they consumed significantly more of a pasta lunch and, in total, consumed significantly more calories throughout the day than when the same participants believed that they were eating a larger omelette.

    Steven Brown said, “Previous studies have shown that a person’s expectations can have an impact on their subsequent feelings of hunger and fullness and, to a degree, their later calorie consumption. Our work builds on this with the introduction of solid food and measured people’s subsequent consumption four hours later, a period of time more indicative of the gap between breakfast and lunch.

    “We were also able to measure participants’ consumption throughout the rest of the day and found that total intake was lower when participants believed that they had eaten a larger breakfast.

    “As part of the study, we were able to take blood samples from participants throughout their visits. Having analysed levels of ghrelin, a known hunger hormone, our data also suggest that changes in reported hunger and the differences in later consumption are not due to a differences in participants’ physical response to the food.

    Therefore, memory for prior consumption, as opposed to physiological factors, may be a better target for investigating why expectations for a meal have an effect on subsequent feelings of hunger and calorie intake.”


  2. Eating triggers endorphin release in the brain

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Turku press release:

    Finnish researchers have revealed how eating stimulates brain’s endogenous opioid system to signal pleasure and satiety.

    The recent results obtained by researchers from Turku PET Centre have revealed that eating leads to widespread opioid release in the brain, likely signalling feelings of satiety and pleasure.

    Eating a delicious pizza led to significant increase of pleasant feelings, whereas consumption of calorie-matched nutritional drink did not. However, both types of meals induced significant release of endogenous opioids in the brain.

    Opioids are associated with pleasure and euphoria. The study revealed that a significant amount of endorphins is released in the entire brain after eating the pizza and, surprisingly, even more are released after the consumption of the tasteless nutritional drink. The magnitude of the opioid release was independent of the pleasure associated with eating. According to the researchers, it is likely that the endogenous opioid system regulates both feelings of pleasure and satiety.

    -The opioid system regulates eating and appetite, and we have previously found that its dysfunctions are a hallmark of morbid obesity. The present results suggest that overeating may continuously overstimulate the opioid system, thus directly contributing to development of obesity. These findings open new opportunities for treating overeating and the development of obesity, says Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Turku PET Centre.

    – It was a surprise that endorphins are released in the entire brain and that the nutritional drink had a larger impact. This creates a basis for future research and hopefully we will find ways to study and describe the development and predictors of addiction, obesity and eating disorders, says Researcher, M.D., PhD. Jetro Tuulari.

    The study was conducted using positron emission tomography (PET). The participants were injected with a radioactive compound binding to their brain’s opioid receptors. Radioactivity in the brain was measured three times with the PET camera: after a palatable meal (pizza), after a non-palatable meal (liquid meal) and after an overnight fast.

    The research was funded by the Academy of Finland.


  3. How brain circuits govern hunger and cravings

    June 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center press release:

    The urge to satisfy hunger is a primal one, but — as any dieter knows — choices about when and what to eat can be influenced by cues in the environment, not just how long it’s been since breakfast. The fact that food-associated visual cues in television commercials and on highway signs can contribute to overeating is well-documented. But how exactly do these external signals trigger cravings and influence behavior?

    By developing a new approach to imaging and manipulating particular groups of neurons in the mouse brain, scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have identified a pathway by which neurons that drive hunger influence distant neurons involved in the decision of whether or not to react to food-related cues. Their findings could open the door to targeted therapies that dampen food cue-evoked cravings in people with obesity. The research was published online today in the journal Nature.

    “The main question we were asking is: how do evolutionarily ancient hunger-promoting neurons at the base of the brain, in the hypothalamus, influence ‘cognitive’ brain areas to help us find and eat calorie-rich foods in a complex and changing world?” said co-corresponding author Mark Andermann, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at BIDMC and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

    “To put it simply, when you’re hungry, the picture of a cheeseburger may be extremely appealing and effective in influencing your behavior,” explained lead author Yoav Livneh, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at BIDMC. “But if your belly is full after eating a big meal, the same cheeseburger picture will be unappealing. We think that the pathway we discovered from hunger-promoting neurons to a region of the brain called the insular cortex plays an important role here.”

    Brain imaging data in humans support the notion that the insular cortex is involved in deciding if a source of food is worth pursuing. In healthy humans, the insular cortex increases its activity in response to food cues during hunger but not following a meal. Studies suggest that this process often goes awry in patients with obesity or other eating disorders that exhibit excessive cravings. Those findings indicate that specific changes in brain activity, including increased sensitivity to food cues, may underlie these disorders — rather than a ‘lack of willpower’.

    In their study, Livneh, Andermann and co-corresponding author Bradford B. Lowell, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at BIDMC and Professor of Medicine at HMS, and colleagues focused on the insular cortex, using a mouse model. Because the mouse insular cortex is located at the side of the brain in a hard-to-reach place, Andermann, Lowell, Livneh and colleagues pioneered the use of a tiny periscope that allowed them to see neurons in this previously unobservable part of the brain. The tool allowed the researchers to monitor and track individual neurons in awake mice as they responded to food cues in both sated and hungry physiological states.

    Their experiments demonstrated that visual cues associated with food would specifically activate a certain group of neurons in the insular cortex of hungry mice, and that these neurons were necessary for mice to respond behaviorally to food cues. After mice had eaten until they were full, this brain response to food cues in the insular cortex was no longer present. While the mice were still sated, the researchers used genetic techniques to artificially create hunger by ‘turning on’ hunger-promoting neurons in the hypothalamus. These neurons express the gene for Agouti-related protein (AgRP) and were previously shown to restore simple feeding behaviors. By activating these AgRP neurons, Livneh and colleagues caused sated mice to once again react to visual stimuli and seek more food, and it also restored the pattern of food cue visual responses across neurons in insular cortex to that previously seen in hungry mice.

    “These AgRP neurons cause hunger — they are the quintessential hunger neuron,” explained Lowell. “It’s a major advance to learn that we can artificially turn them on and cause full mice to work to get food and to eat as if they hadn’t eaten in a long time. These neurons seem capable of causing a diverse set of behaviors associated with hunger and eating.”

    Based on their research, it may also be possible to dial down the specific pathway from AgRP neurons to the insular cortex and reduce over-attention to food cues in the environment, ideally without impacting deliberate eating at mealtimes. This hypothesis requires further investigation, the researchers stress, but has exciting implications for the treatment of human obesity and other eating disorders.

    With their unprecedented view into the insular cortex, Andermann and Lowell’s team created a road map of the brain circuitry by which hunger-related AgRP neurons ultimately influence insular cortex. Using powerful genetic and optical methods to switch individual cells on and off at will, the team could observe the effects both on downstream neurons and on behavior. The circuitry they revealed includes the amygdala, thought to update the value of food cues, and the paraventricular thalamus, which is also important for motivated behaviors. The researchers suggest the pathway may bias decision-making by increasing the pros and decreasing the cons of seeking out and eating a given food.

    “We’re still trying to understand how this process works,” said Lowell. “Huge questions remain, but they are now addressable thanks to these new imaging methods.”


  4. Dining hall intervention helped college students choose healthier options

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    As students transition from high school to college, they enter a critical period for weight gain. Although eating in a buffet-style dining hall offers freedom and flexibility in food choice, many students cite the abundance of food available as a cause for weight gain. As most college students’ diets are low in fruits and vegetables and high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium, researchers from the University of Toronto and Memorial University of Newfoundland created a cross-sectional study to examine whether messaging encouraging fruit, vegetable, and water intake could influence the habits of university students.

    “Our labeling, focused on beverages and fruits and vegetables, may have been useful to decrease students’ consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and increase consumption of water, fruits, and vegetables,” said lead author Mary Scourboutakos, PhD, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto.

    The study was conducted in a dining center on the University of Toronto campus that offered a wide variety of entrees and soups, featured a salad and fruit bar, and had sides, desserts, and 19 beverage options available daily. The first part of the intervention encouraged students to choose water as their beverage by using physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labeling, which illustrated the minutes of jogging required to burn the calories in the different beverages offered. In the second part of the intervention, posters were hung in strategically selected locations to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. The posters were placed in attention-grabbing places to maximize exposure to the intervention.

    Data were collected in-person on six events before, and six events after the intervention; inventory data were used as a secondary source. Between 368 and 510 students visited the dining hall for each dinner when data were collected, filling 8,570 beverages cups and taking 3,668 and 954 trips to the salad bar and fruit bar, respectively. After the interventions, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was reduced and fruit and vegetable intake was increased.

    “We found a significant increase in students drinking water before versus after the intervention, with 43% choosing water before and 54% doing so after,” Scourboutakos said. “Likewise, trips to the fruit bar increased by six percent and trips to the salad bar increased by 12%.”

    These results from a university dining hall setting are promising, particularly regarding the PACE labeling. Interventions to promote increased fruit, vegetable, and water consumption should be repeated in different settings to determine if similarly successful results can be attained.


  5. Study suggests eating in front of a mirror makes food more appealing

    June 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Nagoya University press release:

    Researchers at Nagoya University reveal that eating in front of a mirror — or even with a picture of yourself eating — makes food more appealing.

    People rate food as tasting better, and eat more of it, when they eat with company than when they eat alone. This so-called “social facilitation of eating” is a well-established phenomenon; however, exactly what it is about company that produces the effect is not clear.

    Now, researchers at Nagoya University have discovered that the same effect can be achieved in individuals eating alone simply by providing a mirror to reflect them while they eat. The study was published in Physiology & Behavior.

    “We wanted to find out what the minimum requirement is for the social facilitation of eating,” lead author Ryuzaburo Nakata says. “Does another person have to actually be physically present, or is information suggesting the presence of others sufficient?” The researchers found that people eating alone reported food as tasting better, and ate more of it, when they could see themselves reflected in a mirror, compared with when they ate in front of a monitor displaying an image of a wall.

    The research team initially worked with a group of older adult volunteers. Approaches to enhance enjoyment of food in people eating without company are particularly relevant for elderly people, because research has shown that many frequently eat alone. However, when the team repeated the experiment with young adult volunteers, they observed the same “social” facilitation of eating when a mirror was present, suggesting that the effect is not limited to older people.

    In a further experiment, when the researchers replaced the mirror with photos of the volunteers eating, they discovered that the volunteers still experienced an increase in the appeal of food and ate more. Thus, perhaps surprisingly, a static image of a person eating seems sufficient to produce the “social” facilitation of eating.

    “Studies have shown that for older adults, enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite,” corresponding author Nobuyuki Kawai says. “Our findings therefore suggest a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for older people who do not have company when they eat — for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones.”


  6. A flip switch for binge-eating?

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Researchers have identified a subgroup of neurons in the mouse brain that, upon activation, immediately prompt binge-like eating. Furthermore, repeated stimulation of these neurons over time caused the mice to gain weight. The zona incerta (ZI) is a relatively understudied part of the brain.

    Intriguingly, patients receiving deep brain stimulation of the subthalamus, which includes the ZI, for the treatment of movement disorders can exhibit characteristics of binge eating. To explore this phenomenon in greater detail, Xiaobing Zhang and Anthony N. van den Pol optogenetically labelled GABA neurons in the ZIs of mice.

    They found that stimulating ZI GABA neurons with axons extending into the paraventricular thalamus (PVT) prompted immediate binge-like eating, just two to three seconds after stimulation. Within ten minutes of continuous ZI GABA stimulation, mice rapidly consumed 35% of their daily high-fat food store, meant to be eaten over a 24-hour period.

    The researchers also found that ghrelin, a hormone that signals a reduced energy state in the gut, excited ZI GABA neurons. Upon stimulating the subgroup of ZI neurons for five minutes every three hours over a period of two weeks, the mice significantly increased their food intake, and gained weight.

    Yet, once photostimulation was over, the mice showed a significantly reduced food intake compared with that of controls.

    Lastly, the authors found that stimulation of excitatory axons from the parasubthalamic nucleus to PVT or direct stimulation of glutamate neurons in the PVT reduced food intake.


  7. High-fat diet alters reward system in rats

    June 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Neuroscience press release:

    Exposure to high-fat diet from childhood may increase the sensitivity of the dopamine system later in adulthood, according to a study in male rats published in eNeuro. The research describes potential mechanisms that, if translated to humans, may drive people to seek foods that contribute to obesity.

    Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in sensitization — the process by which repeated administration of a reward, being pharmacological such as amphetamine or natural such as highly palatable food, causes an increase in response to the reward.

    In this study, Guillaume Ferreira and colleagues investigated the effects of high-fat diet exposure on sensitization to amphetamine, a psychostimulant acting through the dopamine system. The authors found that male rats fed a high-fat diet for three months, from weaning to adulthood, exhibited increased locomotor activity in response to a second injection of amphetamine, as well as increased activity of dopamine cells in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). These findings reveal that the development of the VTA-NAc pathway during adolescence is influenced by a high-fat diet, which may lead to long-term changes in reward-seeking behavior.


  8. Prenatal stress predisposes female mice to binge eating

    June 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    Stress changes our eating habits, but the mechanism may not be purely psychological, research in mice suggests. A study published May 30 in Cell Metabolism found that stressed mouse mothers were more likely to give birth to pups that would go on to exhibit binge-eating-like behavior later in life. The female mouse pups from stressed mothers shared epigenetic tags on their DNA, but these epigenetic markers only made a difference when the researchers put the young offspring into a stressful situation. Furthermore, the researchers were able to prevent their binge eating by putting the young mice on a diet with “balanced” levels of nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and folate.

    Previous studies have found an epidemiological link between binge eating and traumatic or stressful events during early life, but untangling the biology behind that correlation has proved difficult. “Here we established a model where we can actually show that early life stress increases the likelihood of binge eating in females,” says senior co-author Alon Chen, a neurobiologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany. “The second thing that is really interesting is that prenatal stress is causing an epigenetic signature in the embryo’s brain,” says Mariana Schroeder, the postdoctoral fellow that led this study.

    To test the impact of prenatal stress, the researchers genetically engineered a line of mice, where the brain circuit responsible for releasing cortisol and other stress hormones could be manipulated. Many different systems within the brain contribute to “stress,” but the researchers wanted to be able to zero in on one specific neuroendocrine circuit — called the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system — to see if it had an effect. In humans, high levels of CRF activity have been linked to increased anxiety, suppressed appetite, and inflammation, all of which can take a long-term toll.

    When these mice became pregnant, the researchers activated the CRF system during their “third trimester” in order to kick the stress circuit into high gear. Their goal was to simulate chronic CRF stress in isolation, but because being handled by humans usually causes all of a mouse’s stress circuits to kick in, they developed a CRF-triggering technique with minimal intervention. “We didn’t actually handle the mice at all; we just changed the water that included the genetic trigger in the third trimester,” Chen says. Handling the mice is usually a source of stress.

    They found that female pups from these stressed mice exhibited epigenetic markers in tissue from their hypothalami. However, the presence of epigenetic methyl tags alone was not enough to cause binge eating. The mouse pups’ tendency to binge only surfaced when they were placed in a stressful situation where the researchers restricted their access to food. The mice on the “limited access” diet could eat as much this very rewarding food as they wanted, but they only had access to food for 2-hour windows three times per week, prompting some mice to eat excessively large amounts of food very quickly during the meal windows.

    Interestingly, all 10 of the female mice that were subjected to the restricted feeding scenario exhibited a binge-eating phenotype. The researchers used an equal number of female offspring from the stressed out mothers that were not subjected to the restricted feeding schedule as a control. If the same pathways are involved in human eating disorders, it could partly explain why women diagnosed with eating disorders outnumber their male counterparts.

    The chemicals that cells use to epigenetically annotate their genes come from food sources. In this case, the epigenetic marker was a methyl tag, and the cell grabs methyl groups from vitamins such as B12 and folate for epigenetic tagging, so the researchers decided to test what would happen if they adjusted the levels of methyl-donating vitamins in the mice’s diet. The genetically predisposed mice on the methyl-balanced diet did not exhibit the binge-eating-like behavior, suggesting that non-invasive dietary interventions may be able to prevent binge eating.

    However, the researchers emphasize that this is a pre-clinical study in mice. We don’t know yet what a methyl-balanced diet for humans would look like or whether it would even have an effect on human eating disorders. “We found a balance, but it might not be the relevant balance for humans. This is something that needs to be tested,” says Chen.

    Chen hopes that this work will help researchers understand the neurobiology behind eating disorders. “The general public is less aware of the fact that we are dealing with a very biological mechanism that changes a person. People say, ‘Oh, it’s only in the brain.’ And yes, it’s in the brain. It involves changes in your genes, in your epigenome, and your brain circuits.”

    All of this underscores the importance of avoiding stressful situations as much as possible during pregnancy. “We all know this, but people ignore it for various social or economic reasons,” says Chen. “But the price we pay later in life — whether it’s psychiatric disorders, metabolic syndromes, or heart-related illnesses — is heavily impacted by the way your brain was programmed early in life.”


  9. Study suggests food brand awareness ups risk of obesity in preschoolers

    May 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Young children who recognize food name brands, such as Lucky Charms, M&M’s and Cheetos, often eat unhealthy items that lead to their high body mass index.

    The risk of this weight gain, according to a new University of Michigan study, occurs independently of other variables, including family demographics or TV viewing.

    The findings also indicate that children often struggle with recalling details about food brands by misidentifying components with mascots and other fantasy characters that they are exposed to during the preschool years.

    U-M researchers sought to determine if food brand recognition alone has any relevance for preschooler weight status, and if family and other variables are the primary sources of being overweight.

    The sample of 247 preschoolers, whose average age was 4.5 years, were measured for BMI and completed recognition and recall indicators for a selection of 30 U.S. food brands.

    The most recognized among the brands was Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (96 percent). Since there were three choices of foods to match with each brand logo, the children could get the answer right one-third of the time just by guessing. Even the least recognized brand (SpaghettiOs) was recognized 41 percent of the time, which was significantly greater than the chance rate.

    The study showed that overweight children recognized 10 food items more often than healthy-weight children: M&M’s, Cocoa Puffs, Keebler cookies, Pringles potato chips, Rice Krispies, Cap’n Crunch, Coca-Cola, Planter’s peanuts, KFC and Hamburger Helper.

    McDonald’s registered the highest recall percentage (62 percent) among overweight children.

    “It is interesting that despite very low recall rates for some foods, recognition rates were still high,” said Kristen Harrison, U-M professor of communication studies and the study’s lead author.

    For example, the Keebler logo was recognized as matching with cookies (as opposed to potato chips or pretzels) by 86 percent of the kids surveyed, but only 1 percent were able to name the brand. On the other hand, recall percentages for other brands (such as McDonald’s, M&M’s and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish) were relatively high, but still lower than their corresponding recognition rates.

    Parent BMI (higher), child race/ethnicity and child vocabulary percentile (lower) were all significantly associated with higher child BMI percentile. Controlling these variables, none of the family behavior variables significantly”).

    Misattribution of brands often occurred among the children. Lucky Charms were called “Cheerios with candy,” M&M’s were called Skittles, Coca-Cola was called Dr. Pepper’, McDonald’s was called “Old McDonald’s,” the Pringles logo was called “Mustache Guy,” Quaker oatmeal “Hatman Oatmeal,” and Cap’n Crunch was identified as both “Captain America” and “Chaplain Crunch.”

    The study’s other researchers were Jessica Moorman, Mericarmen Peralta and Kally Fayhee. The findings appear in the July issue of Appetite.


  10. Parents’ use of emotional feeding increases emotional eating in school-age children

    May 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Emotional eating — eating when you feel sad or upset or in response to another negative mood — is not uncommon in children and adolescents, but why youth eat emotionally has been unclear. Now a new longitudinal study from Norway has found that school-age children whose parents fed them more to soothe their negative feelings were more likely to eat emotionally later on. The reverse was also found to be the case, with parents of children who were more easily soothed by food being more likely to feed them for emotional reasons.

    The findings come from researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King’s College London, University College London, and the University of Leeds. They appear in the journal Child Development.

    Understanding where emotional eating comes from is important because such behavior can increase the risk for being overweight and developing eating disorders,” according to the study’s lead author, Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “If we can find out what influences the development of emotional eating in young children, parents can be given helpful advice about how to prevent it.”

    When children eat to soothe their negative feelings, their food tends to be high in calories (e.g., sweets) so they consume more calories. If they emotionally overeat often, they are also more likely to be overweight. Emotional eating is also tied to the development of later eating disorders (e.g., bulimia and binge eating). This study sought to determine why children eat emotionally and is the first research to consider the issue in school-age children.

    Researchers examined emotional feeding and eating in a representative group of 801 Norwegian 4-year-olds, looking at these issues again at ages 6, 8, and 10. They sought to determine whether parents involved in the study (mostly mothers) shaped their children’s later behavior by offering food to make them feel better when they were upset (emotional feeding), and whether parents whose children were easily soothed by food (those who calmed when given food) were more likely to offer them more food for comfort at a subsequent time. Parents were asked to complete questionnaires describing their children’s emotional eating and temperament (how easily they became upset, how well they could control their emotions), as well as their own emotional feeding. Approximately 65% of the children displayed some emotional eating.

    The study found that young children whose parents offered them food for comfort at ages 4 and 6 had more emotional eating at ages 8 and 10. But the reverse was also true: Parents whose children were more easily comforted with food were more likely to offer them food to soothe them (i.e., to engage in emotional feeding). Thus, emotional feeding increased emotional eating, and emotional eating increased emotional feeding. The findings held even after accounting for children’s body-mass index and initial levels of feeding and eating.

    Moreover, higher levels of negative affectivity (i.e., becoming angry or upset more easily) at age 4 increased children’s risk for emotional eating and feeding at age 6. And this contributed to the bidirectional relation between emotional feeding and emotional eating.

    “We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down,” notes Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who coauthored the study. “Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters.”

    The authors suggest that instead of offering children food to soothe them when they are sad or upset, parents and other caregivers try to calm youngsters by talking, offering a hug, or soothing in ways that don’t involve food. “Food may work to calm a child, but the downside is teaching children to rely on food to deal with negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long run,” adds Steinsbekk.

    The authors caution that because the study was conducted in Norway, which has a relatively homogenous and well-educated population, the findings should not be generalized to more diverse populations or to cultures with other feeding and eating practices without further study.