Selective, discriminating, picky...call it what you will. Everyone has or knows at least one kid — and probably a few adults — who won't generally eat what other people are eating. Studies show that the vast majority of discriminating eaters will grow out of the phase within a few years. But a new study has found that for a small portion of picky eaters, the issue might be associated with emotional stress or anxiety.
It all boils down to just how picky the picky eater is. The majority of kids may have certain foods that they dislike and they may only eat foods that are prepared a certain way. But, according to researchers, these are just normal preferences regarding likes and dislikes. And most kids will grow out of this selectivity by the time they reach adulthood.
But about 18 percent of kids fall into the category researchers call "moderate selected eating," which means that they may only eat from a narrow range of foods. These are the kids who eat a separate dinner than the rest of the family and who bring their own meals to restaurants or parties.
An additional 3 percent of kids are extremely selective about the foods they will eat and may not even tolerate being near foods they don't like. According to the new study, kids in either of these two groups are twice as likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and/or depression over the next two years than their less picky peers.
For the study, researchers from Duke University conducted in-home interviews with 900 kids aged 2 through 5 and their parents regarding the children's eating habits and mental health issues. They checked back on the kids with a similar survey two years later. In addition to the increased likelihood for anxiety and mental health issues in the children who were selective eaters, researchers noted that the parents of picky eaters also felt judged by other parents because of their children's eating habits.
The good news is that for most kids, picky eating is just that — a dislike of certain foods — and it is something they will likely grow out of before adulthood. But for kids who are moderately to severely selective, it may be a clue that something else is going on. And it may be worth bringing up at your child's next health care visit to be sure that there isn't a deeper root to the issue.
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