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Published: 30 March 2015

Let them eat Easter eggs!

Surrey research reveals that restricting children’s access to chocolate may increase their long-term desire to eat it.

Chocolate. Children. Health-conscious parents will instantly understand the problem. So should you let your children indulge in a chocolate binge this Easter, or not?

Easter egg study

In 2013, Professor Jane Ogden, from Surrey's School of Psychology, conducted an experiment in which 86 parents were asked to either restrict their children’s access to chocolate eggs or let them eat what they wanted in the run up to Easter weekend.

At the end of the study, the parents were asked how preoccupied with the chocolate their children had become and how much chocolate they’d eaten. 

Though the children given unrestricted access to the eggs initially showed most demand for it (and, predictably, ate more of it), the children who had their chocolate rationed ate less of it but showed most eagerness for it by the end of the experiment.

Practical Easter advice

Professor Ogden said: “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.

“Easter can be a difficult time for parents who want their child to eat healthily. If you want your child to eat less at this time of year then restrict unhealthy foods. If you want your child to be less preoccupied with trying to eat unhealthy foods then let them have it and get it over and done with.

"At other times of the year, the best approach is simply not to bring unhealthy foods into the home. If it’s not there your child cannot pester you for it.”

The research was published in the journal Appetite.

Read Professor Ogden's Eight sneaky tricks to get your children to eat healthy food on The Conversation.

Learn more about our programmes in the field of Psychology.

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