Picky Eating May Portend Mental Health Problems in Kids

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Children who are picky eaters are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety than peers who eat anything.
Children who are picky eaters are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety than peers who eat anything.

HealthDay News — A kid who is a seriously “picky eater” is also likely to struggle with emotional problems like anxiety and depression, new research suggests.

About 3% of kids suffer from severe selective eating, to the extent that they can't eat out at a restaurant, said lead researcher Nancy Zucker, PhD, an eating disorders specialist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

These kids are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety, when compared with kids who'll eat anything, according to findings published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Even kids who are moderate picky eaters — for example, they only have 10 foods they will reliably eat — are at increased risk for symptoms of anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, although not to the extent that they can be diagnosed with a disorder, Zucker added.

In this study, researchers looked at more than 3,400 children ages 2 to nearly 6 who were treated at one of Duke's pediatric primary care clinics. Of those, over 900 kids were screened by an in-home evaluation, and their parents filled out psychiatric assessment forms and reported on their eating patterns.

About 20% of the kids who were screened had some form of selective eating, researchers found. Of those, 3% exhibited signs of severe selective eating and 17% were moderately picky eaters.

Reference

Zucker N, et al. Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating. Pediatrics. 2015; doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2386.

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