My Topics

17 December 2015

“We Wish You a Delicious Christmas!” - How Children Associate Christmas With Food

Keywords: Christmas, food, Western Europe, eating behavior, experiment, food intake, health, kids,

For many people, Christmas is marked by great celebration with delicious foods. Researchers of an Appetite study wondered whether overweight and obese children associate special events like Christmas more frequently with food than normal weight children. Interestingly, they found that it was not the overweight children, but the normal weight and lean children who reported more food-related associations when thinking of Christmas and other special events.

Take aways

  • Normal weight and lean children associate Christmas and other special events, such as holidays and birthday parties, more with food than overweight children. 
  • This might be because leaner children often have stricter rules and are only allowed to eat treats and snacks on special occasions. However, this remains to be tested in future research. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Do overweight children associate special events, such as Christmas and birthday parties, more frequently with food than normal weight and lean children?

  • Who?

    114 children between 10 and 13 years old (mean age: 10 years old; 50% were boys).

  • Where?

    Germany, Europe

  • How?

    First, children completed free-word association tasks to assess their associations related to five different special events: Christmas, holidays, birthday party, carnival and weekend. Within those tasks, children were instructed to play a word game and were asked to write down the first five words they thought of when thinking of the words. Each word was classified “food related” or “not food related”. After finishing the word association tasks, children were asked to pick one of four candies or four toys as a reward. They were also allowed to take nothing. Finally, children’s height and weight were measured to assess their BMI.

Facts and findings

  • Children who were overweight listed fewer food-related associations with special events than normal weight or lean children, see Figure 1. 
  • This difference was only visible for the total of all special events, not for the five events separately. 
  • According to the researchers, the reason why the leaner children reported more food-related associations might have to do with the exclusivity of specific foods for them. Maybe leaner children have stricter rules and are only allowed to eat treats and snacks on special days or occasions. 
  • There was no difference in gift choice (candy vs. a toy as a reward for the free-word association tasks) between children who listed many food-related associations with special events and children who did not. 
  • Gift choice was also unrelated to BMI. Overweight, normal weight, and lean children all preferred a toy over candy. 
  • Fun fact: Of the 2,775 associations, 232 associations (around 8%) referred to food. On average, the children wrote down 2 word associations that related to food.