Dinner time in most families will usually include at least one child pushing their food around their plate. They may have liked broccoli yesterday, not so much today. But when does picky eating creep into a danger zone, indicating your child has more deep-seated problems than just a fussy palate? The most recent research indicates even more moderate levels of picky eating should be investigated.
After a long day, which no doubt has involved cooking a nutritious meal, there’s precious little else that irks parents than a child turning up their nose at said meal. But if this happens day after day, night after night, there could be more happening below the surface.
A recent US study looked at the selective eating patterns of more than 900 children, aged between two and six. Researchers discovered that both moderate and severe picky eating was associated with anxiety, depression and attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder.
In turn, the researchers concluded that health care providers should intervene at even moderate levels of picky eating.
The study found that extreme cases, with children making mealtime at home almost impossible with their selective eating, were rare among the group – only affecting three per cent. But of this group, the children were twice as likely as the children who aren’t picky eaters, to be diagnosed with depression, and seven times as likely to have been diagnosed with social anxiety.
The study revealed a larger group of children, 17 per cent, which are less extreme in their picky eating, but display other sensitivities.
“They’re more sensitive to taste, to smell, to texture, to visual clues like light,” says Nancy Zucker, director of Duke Centre for Eating Disorders. “They also had higher levels of anxiety symptoms and depressive symptoms.”
But Ms Zucker points out that these symptoms alone don’t form the basis for a formal diagnosis and that parents of picky eaters shouldn’t panic.
So what can parents learn from this study? Ms Zucker says some children may not simply ‘grow out’ of picky eating, and therefore it may pay for parents to seek help.
She says it’s important not to do battle over formal mealtimes, and instead be a little more adventurous during snack time.
If you have a selective eater, take a look at our tips for dealing with picky eaters.