Children Who Are Picky Eaters Are More Likely to Have Mental Health Issues Later On

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There are a ton of weird things out there that can make people feel depressed. Take, for example, interior design — one study found that 14% of people said that their home furnishings actually make them feel gloomy. White bread and rice can, as new research suggests that they could increase the risk of depression in older women.

And picky eating?

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that picky eating isn’t a normal behavior, and could hint at future mental health issues. Kids who are selective eaters are more likely to develop anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the study.

Lead researcher Nancy Zucker said that about 3% of kids suffer from severe selective eating to the extent that they can’t dine out at restaurants. These children are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety in comparison to the kids who’ll eat anything, according to the study’s findings.

Even children who are moderately picky eaters — the ones who have about 10 foods that they’ll never have a problem eating — are at an increased risk of anxiety and ADHD, but not to the extent that they can be diagnosed with a disorder.

Duke University researchers note in their paper that although it’s not clear how or why picky eating may be linked to these conditions, it could be that picky eaters have heightened sensory experiences overall are also more sensitive to the food they eat. In other words, picky eating and mental health issues could be two issues caused by the same problem.

“They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels,” said Zucker. “That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.”

Researchers suggest that doctors take picky eating seriously, as it could be a marker for future mental health issues, and that they intervene when parents raise the issue.

Unfortunately, there is no one way to overcome picky eating, but there are some behaviors that should be avoided.

 "Punishing the child does not work, and rewarding or bribing does not work."
“Punishing the child does not work, and rewarding or bribing does not work.”

“What we found — and others have kind of confirmed — is that being a short-order cook and catering to the child is not helpful,” said Monell Chemical Senses Center psychologist Marcia Pelchat, who had no involvement in the study. “Punishing the child does not work, and rewarding or bribing does not work.”

Instead, it’s better to help the children take pleasure in food, take time to prepare it with the children, and get kids involved in cooking to help them gradually reframe their experience.

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