How Food as a Reward Is Detrimental to Children's Health, Learning, and Behavior

J Sch Health. 2015 Sep;85(9):648-58. doi: 10.1111/josh.12294.


Background: Despite small- and wide-scale prevention efforts to curb obesity, the percentage of children classified as overweight and obese has remained relatively consistent in the last decade. As school personnel are increasingly pressured to enhance student performance, many educators use food as a reward to motivate and reinforce positive behavior and high achievement. Yet, many educators have missed the link between student health and academic achievement.

Methods: Based on a review of the literature, this article explores the link between childhood obesity and adverse mental and physical health, learning, and behavior outcomes. The role in providing children with food as a reward in the relationship between obesity and detrimental health and performance outcomes are examined.

Results: The use of food as a reward is pervasive in school classrooms. Although there is a paucity of research in this area, the few studies published in this area show detrimental outcomes for children in the areas of physical health, learning, and behavior.

Conclusions: It is imperative that educators understand the adverse outcomes associated with using food as a reward for good behavior and achievement. This study provides alternatives to using food as a reward and outlines future directions for research.

Keywords: children; classroom, behavior; food; obesity; reward.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child Health*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Food / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Motor Activity
  • Pediatric Obesity / etiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / psychology
  • Reward*
  • School Health Services
  • Token Economy