Why Picky Eating Isn’t Always Just a “Phase”

posted: 08/04/15
by: Mara Betsch
Baby refuses to eat, picky eater

It's no secret that plenty of kids (20 percent, according to recent research) are known to turn up their noses at certain foods, namely anything that's green or "smells funny." But a new study shows that the pickiest of picky eaters may be at risk for something more concerning than a lack of nutrition.

A study in Pediatrics looked at a group of more than 900 children between the ages of 2 and 5 who visited Duke University for medical care. About 3 percent of the kids studied were labeled as "severe selective eaters," which was defined as a child who limited the foods he or she ate so much that cooking at home was difficult and dining out was basically out of the question.

And if dealing with a picky eater wasn't hard enough, this smaller subset of children were twice as likely as the less picky eaters to be diagnosed with depression and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with social anxiety.

While the correlation needs to be studied more before the researchers make any conclusions, it's an interesting, and potentially alarming, relationship. So if you think you've got a severe picky eater, don't ignore it. Talk to your pediatrician about making mealtimes a little easier and trying to appeal these kids' heightened sensitivity. And for parents of less high-risk pick eaters, instead of encouraging new foods only at the dinner table, causing mealtime anxiety, take "food adventures" in the afternoon and mid-morning to encourage them to try new things.

But most importantly, don't get discouraged if your child refuses to eat new things the first, second, or even fifth time you put it on their plate. While it may take adults a time or two before they decide whether they like a food or not, a child might need eight trials -- and extremely picky eaters up to 52 -- before a food isn't considered new anymore. And, thankfully, most kids outgrow their selective eating by the time they hit adulthood.