Selective eating in children—commonly referred to as “picky eaters”—is a common and burdensome problem in young children that many will carry into adulthood. Doctors often take a wait-and-see approach hoping children will “grow out of it,” and frustrated parents report often feeling blamed for failing to introduce children to novel foods.
A new study in the September 2015 issue of Pediatrics “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairments in Preschoolers With Selective Eatin,” (published online Aug. 3) shows that a new approach to selective eating is needed.
Researchers screened 3,433 children and found that although “picky eating” is common—20 percent of those screened had selective eating—that doesn’t mean it is benign. Both severe and moderate levels of selective eating were associated with significantly elevated symptoms of social anxiety, anxiety and depression, while cases with moderate levels of selective eating were also associated with symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD. This new data indicates that there is a need to develop new interventions and provide further guidance to caregivers about the management of selective eating. In addition, this research may reveal a useful early screening tool for children vulnerable to the emergence of anxiety issues parents can reliably identify symptoms of selective eating in their children.
Researchers concluded that while there is much to learn they hope these findings will help health care providers better understand the complex challenges parents face when a child is a “picky eater.”