Is Picky Eating a Sign of Bigger Problems?

Posted by Sarah Bennett on August 20, 2015

So your child is a picky eater? I'm sure, like most parents, this has frustrated you no end. For most parents, picky eating is frustrating, but most doctors will advise parents to "wait and see." The hope is that it is a phase the child is going through and the child will grow out of it. However, a new study concludes that the picky eater has a serious issue and health care providers should intervene.
 
New research indicates that there may be more to picky eating for a few of those toddlers out there.  A study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics (Monday 8/2/15)in which it was reported that for a small percentage of picky eaters there may be a corresponding psychiatric problem. It also found that as the picky eater became pickier the psychiatric problems became worse.
 
The study consisted of more than 1,000 children ages 2 to 5 who were interviewed and followed up in two years. They found that 20% of the kids were picky eaters. Of this 20%, seventeen percent were moderate picky eaters and three percent were severe picky eaters.  The moderate eaters would not eat certain food groups and the picky eaters’ sensitivities to smell or taste were so strong that eating away from home was so difficult that it could be hard for these kids to eat at school or at a friend’s house when they got older.
 
The results showed that kids who were fussy eaters were twice as likely to be depressed and have social anxiety than those who were not picky eaters. And interestingly, those who were only moderately fussy about what they ate were found to be more likely to develop attention deficit disorder and separation anxiety. There also was evidence to indicate that those kids with anxiety and depression (those with severe fussiness) were more likely to have mothers with high anxiety. There were also more family conflicts around food.
 
The researchers conclude that it is not the parent’s fault, and that these picky eaters should not be ignored; they suggest that since picky eating is linked with psychiatric problems, there should be strategies in place for doctors to intervene. They also suggest that there be a new term used for a picky eater, avoidant/restrictive food intake. I am not sure I agree with this.

I'm not sure I agree with making this another “disease.”  This is precisely what it seems like they are doing when they want to change the name to “avoidant/restrictive food intake.”  For some people this may be a problem as they get older, but it seems like our society is too ready to put a label on everyone.  This ends up creating another disease for Big Pharma to create a medicine for.  I believe physicians should offer parents help when it comes to a picky eater, but I don’t believe there is a need to change the name and label these kids.

Finally, I disagree with the authors’ quickness to say that the mother of these kids have high levels of anxiety. They do nothing to prove if the mother has anxiety because their child is difficult to feed, or if it's a cause of the child’s picky eating.