Kids don’t always want to eat their vegetables — and that’s ok. According to new research, parents of picky eaters generally don’t have to fret over health and developmental concerns because their child is choosy child. However, research has also found that picky eating could be symptom of a larger psychological problem.
It’s important to note that picky eating doesn’t cause a psychological issue or vice versa, but there can be a correlation between the two, writes Rachel Rabkin Peachman for The New York Times. For 20% of kids, picky eating can signal a larger issue than what’s obviously occurring.
Nancy Zucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University School of Medicine, led a study to monitor the selective eating of 917 children ages 2 to 6. The study found that moderate selective eating is associated with disorders including anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Children who were classified as severe selective eaters were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to a child without selective eating habits.
“I don’t want to raise panic among parents,” Ms. Zucker said. “I’m hoping this research will make all of us realize that the story is more complicated than we appreciated.”
Children who are picky eaters are more sensitive to the smell and texture of food. They also have a stronger sense of disgust, write A. Pawlowski and Erika Edwards for Today. This particular ability to experience the world more intensely may also make it challenging to handle their emotions or to focus.
“These are just sensitive kids, they see things more intently, they feel things more deeply and that’s both in their own internal experience and the world around them. So they have more vulnerabilities to experience taste more vividly, but also more emotions more strongly,” Zucker said.
The worst picky eaters have habits such as only eating foods of certain colors, textures or brands. This “sensory sensitivity” can lead to social complications. They may have to avoid birthday parties, cafeteria food and sleep-away camps due to their eating habits, writes Jessica Glenza for The Guardian.
An important takeaway from the study is that picky eaters aren’t difficult kids with pushover parents, and that cutting up fruit into fun shapes isn’t necessarily going to solve the issue.
Zucker hopes that parents can drop some of the guilt they may be feeling if their child is a picky eater. The best things parents can do are to be a good role model when it comes to eating and to provide their child with healthy food. After that the child can decide what they will and will not eat.
She urges parents not to have dinner time turn into a battle ground:
“Mealtimes are such a sacred space for families to share time together, to eat together and to share their day,” she said. “It should be a peaceful and calm time.”