Young children comfort eat when they're anxious, it has been found.
An obesity conference heard that rows at home, bullying and illness all drive children as young as five to seek solace in unhealthy, sugar-filled snacks.
Belgian researchers asked more than 300 children, aged between five and 10, questions about stressful life events, such as the divorce of their parents or the death of a grandparent, and how angry, anxious, sad and happy they felt.
Bullying, problems with friends and rows with brothers and sisters were also factored in.
The parents also filled in a questionnaire about how often their children ate various foods, while the children explained when they felt driven to eat particular foods.
The results showed that the more stressful a child's life, the more sweet foods they ate.
Researcher Nathalie Michels, of Ghent University, told the European Congress on Obesity in Sofia, Bulgaria: "Parents and children should be made aware that stress can influence emotional eating behaviour, so they can pay attention to potential triggers and anticipate this behaviour.
"Furthermore, children should be equipped with stress-coping skills, such as problem-solving or asking for help, instead of seeking solace in food."
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, said: "From the moment that an infant is born it learns that sweetness brings comfort.
"It should therefore be of no surprise that it is sophisticated enough, even by age five, to know that it'll feel better about some unhappy event having eaten a chocolate biscuit or something sugary.
"After all, that's what mummy does and parents are role models and copied.
"Mummy, of course, should know better but most five-year-olds will lack the knowledge that indulgence food can be bad for you, and be habit forming, if not eaten in moderation.
"There's nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat - but that's a far cry from comfort eating to relieve stress."
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