There is an interesting article in Pediatrics which looks at children who were identified by their parents as picky eaters. It seems that being a picky eater (now also called selective eating), may not just be a phase for some children. Selective eating and a child’s food preferences may be an indicator of other psychological problems.
Picky eating affects about 20% of children. In this study from Duke University, 917 children ages 2-6 who were identified as picky eaters by their parents were followed over 3 years. The author found that those children with “moderate picky eating habits” were more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, depression and ADHD. Children who had severe selective eating ( those children who had intense aversions that made it difficult to eat outside of their home) were even more likely to have social anxiety and depression.
I found this study to be fascinating as it does not show that picky eating causes psychological issues or even vice versa…..but it does show that there is a correlation between the two. I think this only substantiates what I have seen in my own practice and I often ask parents is this a “nature or nurture issue”, or both?
While many children go through phases when they only want peanut butter and jelly for lunch or could live on chicken nuggets and pizza, some children seem to develop more intense feelings related to food choices. Many parents that I see say , “we just try to ignore it” and their child seems to “move on”. But over the years other parents have said that “their child would starve to death if they did not capitulate to their picky eating”, and that the struggles it caused were “just not worth the anxiety”. Even before this study, it seemed that some children “are just wired” differently.
These children also seemed to have heightened issues with textures and tastes, that you sometimes even notice in a child as they begin to eat soft table foods between 9-12 months of age. Are these the children that go on to become extremely picky eaters? Could it be that these children are just born with heightened sensitivity to taste, texture and smell?
All in all this is an interesting study which actually raises more questions about how to handle a picky eater. Is there one right answer….like most things the answer is NO. But having family meal time is still important and I always start with the statement, “a parents job is to provide their children with a healthy well balanced meal, and their child will decide if they want to eat it” . Sounds easy enough…..but for some it may not be.
So, if you find that your child is getting more selective, food choices are more intense and this is causing anxiety for both parent and child, make sure you discuss this with your pediatrician.