Does Keeping Kids Away From Junk Food Backfire?

Kids rushing for candy

When I wrote the post a while ago about obese parents being more likely to have obese children, one of my readers wrote this: “Though these things [pizza and burgers] being treats might sound like a good thing it kind of backfired, and when I got older and realized I could get these things when *I* wanted and no one could control my food any longer, I kind of swung the other way for a while and ate too much junk.”

I thought it would make a really interesting topic for a blog post because let’s face it – all of us were once children and a lot of us have issues with weight. Plus, many of my readers are parents, grandparents, or have a significant role in a child’s life.

I did some research and found a study published in the April 2013 edition of Pediatrics journal entitled, “Food-Related Parenting Practices and Adolescent Weight Status: A Population-Based Study.” The study found that many parents in the study tried to control how much food a child ate. In some cases the parents pushed food on their kids and in other cases the parents restricted foods from their children.

Parents with obese children tended to attempt to restrict food while parents with normal weight children often pushed food, or pressured their children to eat more. The researchers found that parents with normal weight children pushed food on their kids more often than parents with overweight children restricted food.

Part of the conclusion of the article stated:

“. . .parents should be educated and empowered through anticipatory guidance to encourage moderation rather than overconsumption and emphasize healthful food choices rather than restrictive eating patterns.”

While the study did not delve into what impact these food restrictions or pressures to eat would have on the children later, I personally wonder what effect this has on the choices kids make as they get older.

Personally, I grew up in a family that rarely went out to eat, had healthy well-balanced meals prepared every evening, and where dessert was an occasional treat rather than an every day occurrence. My parents did not push me to eat nor did they restrict my food intake. I did go on my first diet (a liquid one) when I was in high school, so there were obviously some conversations surrounding my increasing weight.

By the way, I lost weight on that diet and gained it back as soon as I began to eat. Big surprise. 

However, even though we had mostly healthy foods, I was very much attracted to candy at the convenience store, and made frequent trips to fast food restaurants once I had my driver’s license. It was like the fascination/attraction with unhealthy foods had been dormant and was then unleashed. (There were some underlying emotional issues going on as well.)

In college I gained a bit of weight but my real weight gain came on once I got married. I don’t think that having healthy food around the house and not having an abundance of junk food around caused me to rebel later. Instead, for me personally, there were unhealthy emotional attachments I had to food and many, many bad habits I needed to break in order to lose 150 pounds.

The recommendations of the study for parents to be educated and empowered is a good one.

I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve talked to who honestly did not know what to feed their kids for lunch or dinner and felt powerless to shape their family’s dietary habits. The bonus to education and empowerment is that knowledge is often passed onto the children.

I have known kids who left home at a healthy weight and went crazy for junk food but they did end up moderating their choices and never became obese like I did. I know fewer children who were obese or overweight growing up and managed to shed the weight and keep it off well into adulthood. That’s the sad fact of children who face obesity. It’s often a lifelong struggle to get back to a healthy weight.

What do you think? Does keeping kids away from junk food backfire later? What if the child is already overweight? What then? Diane

5 thoughts on “Does Keeping Kids Away From Junk Food Backfire?

  1. Natalie says:

    My stay-at-home mum cooked for us and junk food was a treat, looking back now I think the balance there was about right. But I had a traumatic childhood in various ways, started shoplifting when I was about eight (some small toys but mainly lollies from supermarkets) and as soon as I had any money it all went on junk food. In High School I sometimes had five Paddle Pop ice creams from the canteen during the school day (before school, recess, lunchtime) as my only food (despite having a packed lunch) then two packets of chips from the corner shop on the way home. I remember friends buying one packet and me feeling stressed about that knowing one wasn’t enough to fill the void and that I needed two. I think it was entirely emotional eating and nothing to do with what food my mother did or didn’t serve at home.

    I have two children of my own now and I think they get too many “treats” but they are both ideal weight – so far -, they get real food every meal and are very active.

  2. Martha G says:

    In my case it backfired. My Mom was the original portion control queen – breakfast was one egg, one piece of toast, two strips of bacon and 6 oz of juice or fruit. She was a good and healthy cook, and we always had enough to eat. But she watched what I ate like a hawk and I wasn’t fat. My Dad OTOH treated us with candy or ice cream if we were sad or needed a perk.
    When I was about 15 or 16 and weighed probably 145-150 (5’9″) I’d gained weight and was put on my first diet. Lost the weight but gained more in college.

    When I graduated and lived on my own I decided no one could tell ME how much to eat or drink and started drinking OJ as a beverage. Portions got bigger…no surprise so did I.

    Even as an adult my parents and Mom especially were on me about how much and what I ate. Took me until age 61 1/2 to get over it and started listening to my body and my needs. Didn’t “diet” but did take my health back. Have lost and maintained 80 lbs.

    Restricting IMO doesn’t really work all that well. Working for balance is better for me.

  3. Maria says:

    Thanks for this post. I grew up with a serial dieter. My mother was on and off diets most of my childhood and as a result, we all had to ‘pay’ because she never bought any treats. The only time we ate ‘freely’ was on vacations – which ironically was when she was in a better mood. Unfortunately, I adopted a lot of these bad habits yo-yo dieting and the mental stress that came along with it. Only now am I learning to take back my life and live it differently and looking at health & dieting differently too. It feels so much better than swimming upstream losing/gaining all the time.
    It’s a journey but necessary in order for us to learn to love ourselves while relearning how to live a healthy life instead of reliving old patterns from childhood.

  4. Mike says:

    Your article raises two interesting points related to feeding our children: limiting access to junk food and portion control.

    I have two boys (7 and 4) who are both at their ideal weight but I certainly don’t believe I have all the answers, since I have my own weight issues…

    Anyway, as far as my children are concerned, junk food is not forbidden but is limited. For instance they are allowed to have a small desert every week night (say one cookie – if they’re still hungry fruits are always available) , but on week-ends they can have larger deserts. On week days late afternoon snacks will be raw veggies, but on week-ends we’ll take the potato chips bag out. They know junk food is special and limited, and I think they enjoy it more.

    As for portion control, I tend to push them to eat more rather than less. It seems like a horrible thing to tell a hungry kid to stop eating. I will, however, make suggestions about what they can eat. After two bowls of cereal in the morning I will offer fruits if they’re still hungry. At dinner bread is limited to one each, but they can have as much meat and vegetables as they want.

  5. Christine says:

    This is so hard. Both my kids are currently at normal weights, but they are young. My eight year old does eat a good amount of carbs and that could backfire on her at some point. I try to use moderation. We offer fruits and vegetables at most meals. They do get treats. Since it is summer, they are probably getting more than they should. We are both trying to eat healthy as a family without making a big deal about it. Okay, so I sort of do make a big deal about it. I don’t talk about weight, but I do talk about how some foods are healthy and good for you. I think it is a balance.

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