Next time Junior starts acting up and you offer a snack to settle the tyke down, think of the ramifications. Sure, the little one will be happier and quieter. But in the long run, you could be setting the child up for such health problems as obesity down the road, especially if the young'un is the outgoing type.
A Penn State study has determined that the more frequently a mother uses food to calm a child, the greater the likelihood that the baby will gain weight. But the change was observed in more surgent babies, as in those who were extroverted and active. There were no changes in weight among babies bearing other temperaments.
In the first stage of the study study, 160 mothers were asked to maintain a diary for three days and record how frequently their babies, who would have been six months old at the time, cried as well as the methods they used to quiet them. The mothers and researchers also examined the temperament of the infants by looking for traits associated with such feelings as anger, fear, sadness, and happiness. They also used these traits to determine which one the babies demonstrated in reaction to people, new objects, and circumstances.
In the second phase, conducted when the babies were at 18 months, researchers weighed the babies to assess which character traits were responsible for the greatest gains in weight. More surgent babies were at the top of the charts.
One researcher, Penn State professor Cynthia Stifter, determined that if children aren't hungry when they are acting up and mothers give them food to stop the agitation, the babies will translate this into an interpretation of food as a source of pleasure.
In particular, surgent babies tend to display a higher level of sensitivity in the part of the brain that releases dopamine to the rest of the body. Given that dopamine is a neurotransmitters responsible for controlling the brain's pleasure centers, babies will more likely link food with pleasure and will try to receive food to make themselves feel good.
One of those ways is to act up in an effort to get food. In turn, parents are unwittingly influenced by that behavior to provide food to an infant in order to keep them calm.