Picky eating harmless but can signal child’s emotional woes

FILE - This Sept. 22, 2014 file photo shows Brussels sprouts in Concord, N.H. New research suggests the picky eating problem is rarely worth fretting over, although in a small portion of kids it may signal emotional troubles that should be checked out. The study was published Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in the journal Pediatrics. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)

CHICAGO (AP) Parents of picky eaters take heart: New research suggests the problem is rarely worth fretting over, although in a small portion of kids it may signal emotional troubles that should be checked out.

Preschool-aged children who are extremely selective about what they eat and dislike even being near certain foods are more likely than others to have underlying anxiety or depression, the new study found. But only 3 percent of young children studied were that picky.

Less severe pickiness, dubbed “moderate selected eating” in the U.S. study, was found in about 18 percent of kids. These are children who will only eat a narrow range of foods. Kids with either level of pickiness were almost two times more likely than others to develop anxiety symptoms within two years, the study found.

More typical pickiness, including kids who just refuse to eat their vegetables, is probably merely “normal dislike,” said eating disorders specialist Nancy Zucker, the lead author and an associate psychiatry professor at Duke University’s medical school. These are the kids who typically outgrow their pickiness as they mature.

Zucker said young children with moderate pickiness are probably more likely to outgrow the problem than the severe group, although more research is needed to confirm that.

The study was published Monday in the Journal Pediatrics, a top medical journal in the U.S.

Dr. Arthur Lavin, a Cleveland pediatrician said picky eating is among the top concerns parents bring to his office, and that the study “helps us understand who we should be concerned about.”

“There’s more going on here than just not wanting to eat broccoli,” said Lavin, a member of an American Academy of Pediatrics committee on psycho-social issues. He was not involved in the research.

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