Picky Eating Habits in Children: Not Just a Little Problem

It is not news to anyone that fussy eating habits are common among small children. New research from the Duke University Center for Eating Disorders suggests that picky eating may be a sign of deeper mental issues.

Lead researcher Dr. Nancy Zucker and her team studied more than 3,000 children ages two to six to find how closely depression was linked to fussy eating. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that between 14 and 20 percent of parents reported that their children were always or often picky eaters. 18 percent of these children were classified as moderately picky, and 3 percent were classified as severely selective with a diet that ‘limited their ability to eat with others.’ The study found the group of severely selective eaters to be more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety. Even the moderately picky eaters displayed symptoms of anxiety and other mental problems.

Dr. Zucker says that findings should not alarm parents, but should help initiate conversations with doctors to start being more specific about when picky eating is normal and when it should be seen as a sign of possible mental issues, saying:

Impairment can take many different forms. It can affect the child’s health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes in them, and parents can feel blamed for the problem. There’s no question that not all children go on to have chronic selective eating into childhood. But because these children are seeing impairment in their health and well-being now, we need to start developing ways to help those parents and doctors know when to intervene.”

Her advice to parents is simple: “Try to get meal times back,” she says. This means not attempting to force children to eat foods they don’t like at meals, since they will begin associating the table with unpleasant experiences. Try introducing them to new foods at different times instead, as a part of food adventures, to help them become more open and willing to try new things.

Read more here- “Fussy eating may be a sign of mental illness: Being picky with food is linked to greater levels of anxiety and depression,” (Colin Fernandez, The Daily Mail)

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Mackenzie is a Marketing Fellow and a rising junior at Villanova University. She is planning to co-major in Marketing and Finance and minor in Business Entrepreneurship. As a part of her studies, she has created and presented a comprehensive marketing plan to professionals from The Vanguard Group featuring Vanguard's exchange-traded funds.

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