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Easter 2014: Restricting Your Children's Chocolate Could Do More Harm Than Good

14/08/2014 16:48 | Updated 22 May 2015

Restricting your children's chocolate could do more harm than good

Never mind the Easter Bunny hopping along merrily carrying a single Creme Egg, he practically needs an articulated lorry to deliver most children's chocolate hoards these days. So, as we await the epic annual cocoa-fest that a 21st Century family Easter involves, just what is the right approach for parents to take? Should we let our kids gorge on unlimited Galaxy, contain their Cadbury's consumption or even ban the delectable sweet stuff altogether?

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A new study, led by Professor Jane Ogden of the University of Surrey, suggests well-intentioned parents who strictly limit their children's intake of chocolate, could be doing more harm than good.

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Professor Ogden found that rather than making them healthier, parents who place too many controls on their family's consumption of chocolate and sweets might be encouraging a long term obsession with such foods.

In her research project, half the children had their chocolate eating restricted and the other half didn't. Although those in the first group ended up, by definition, gobbling fewer goodies, over the period of the study they became far more preoccupied with chocolate and sweet foods than those in the 'no limits' cohort.

"In terms of parenting practice, the results indicate that in the short term, restricting 'bad' foods is an effective means to promote healthier eating habits. But by restricting access you may encourage a preoccupation with unhealthy foods which in the long term could encourage the very behaviour you are trying to prevent," explains Professor Ogden.

It's this forbidden fruit effect that can cause cravings and binging then.

So is the answer to let them have completely unlimited access to the household chocolate stash?

Mum of two Laura's upbringing suggests not: she now struggles with not scoffing all her kids' chocolate supplies.

"My mother never limited or rationed us. I always ate my entire advent calendar on December 1st, finished off a packet of sweets when opened, and generally just scoffed as much as I wanted. We got to eat bowls of ice cream as an after school snack. As a result as an adult I have no self control whatsoever!"

Registered Nutritionist Carina Norris who co-wrote Lorraine Kelly's Junk-Free Eating Plan for Children, advises mums and dads need to go for the middle ground: "Whilst banning foods that children like is generally counterproductive, many eat far more chocolate at Easter than is good for them.

"My suggestion would be to limit them to one or at most two eggs per child, and try to make them ration it out so that it lasts as long as possible - this is a good skill to teach them anyhow, and not just as far as chocolate is concerned."

Tracey Harper, another nutritionist, who also runs children's cookery classes in Hertfordshire, agrees that neither banning chocolate altogether nor allowing unlimited consumption is the best approach.

"As long as a child is fit and healthy and their diet is otherwise balanced, I don't see why they shouldn't have a chocolate treat now and then. If you deprive a child of chocolate, especially at a time like Easter, they are probably going to be more obsessed by it."

Tracey draws on her own and her brother's experience though to suggest that none of this is black and white (or should that be dark, milk and white?) and there are other factors at play: "My mum and dad were not at all strict about chocolate and sweets. We had far too much and I think that's why I have at times had a bit of a problem with them.

"Yet my brother is not really bothered by sweet things. Maybe I inherited something genetic from my parents (who are chocoholics) and he didn't!"

Similarly, Sue, a mother of two now grown-up children, says her son and daughter were brought up with the same access to confectionery but have totally different appetites for raiding the chocolate box now.

"My daughter likes and eats chocs far more than my son. He can have a box of them in his room for days and not bother. She'd buy a choc bar to eat on the train whereas he wouldn't even think of it. Perhaps it's a girl thing."

The 'everything in moderation' approach might be, as per the University of Surrey study, preferable to creating hang-ups from harsher restrictions, but it seems then, it's still no guarantee your kids will grow into paragons of cocoa self-control.

There's more to it than that and Angela, a 30-something writer friend of mine, is living, eating proof: "I had perfectly reasonable amounts as a child but I'm now a total chocaholic. This year, we bought chocolate eggs for children we know, and I've had to replace them three times already!!

"Still, one year I had to replace them nine times (and I'm not kidding)..."

Will your children be eating as much chocolate as they like this Easter or will you impose limits?

Do you think your own upbringing affected whether you have a sweet tooth now?

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