Study Links Anxiety, Depression, With Picky Eating: The Science Behind Your Child's Selectivity

Interest in the link between picky eating and disorders such as anxiety and depression in children has been on the rise. Recently, NPR's popular radio program “All Things Considered” featured Nancy Zucker, the director of the Duke University Center for Eating Disorders. Zucker talked at length about a recent study conducted on 917 picky eaters ranging from the ages of 2 - 6 years old that revealed a connection between their selective eating and anxiety, depression, and ADHD. The program delved into the reasons children might be selective, and what to them constitutes “edible” and “non-edible.”

You see, picky eaters are not just influenced by one characteristic of food – true, the first and strongest objection is usually against how the food looks, but there are several different things that can put your child off, including smell and texture.

But why are some people more picky in the first place? Beverly Tepper, also interviewed by NPR and an expert in food science tells us that it may be because of heightened sensitivities. This is not always a bad thing, and it was probably developed as an evolutionary advantage to avoid poisonous foods. Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Stanford Med illustrated this heightened sensitivity by doing a six-week-long experiment on herself, during which she ate only one certain meal, three times a day (and if you're a parent struggling with an extremely selective eater, this may sound quite familiar). Near the end of her experiment, Fitzpatrick recounts noticing miniscule differences between the meals that drastically changed her experience of them, a phenomenon that picky eaters experience every day. The reason for this is the limited variety of children's food. In the past century or so child feeding has changed. Today, parents introduce new foods at a much later time, resulting in a slowly-maturing American palate. The remedy? Introducing a variety of tastes and textures early on to ensure that your child accepts all kinds of foods and avoids being a picky eater.

The children in the study were classified as “moderate” or “severe” in their selectivity, so don't panic yet – if your child just hates broccoli and zucchini, that isn't exactly picky eating.

So what is picky eating? Picky eating has a wide variety of signals; do you know a picky eater?

  • Resists most fruits & vegetables
  • Refuses new foods
  • Fearful of different foods, prefers familiar foods
  • Rigidity with foods being separated on the plate (not touching)
  • Difficulty accepting different textures, temperatures or tastes
  • Trouble Concentrating
  • Impulsivity
  • Tires Easily
  • Stomach Aches
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Headaches
  • Stunted growth
  • Under weight/ Overweight
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Social challenges

Does your child exhibit these symptoms? If so then Zucker, and we, suggest that you call and schedule a consultation. Zucker uses the same methods that we use at Early Insights, to help a child feel safer and more courageous to accept more foods, tastes, textures, and nutrition.

It isn't too late to introduce your child to new foods which may minimize the risk of depression and anxiety.

If you're interested in reading the study in detail, it's published online in it's entirety and you can find it here (link opens in new tab).

The NPR feature can be listened to here (link opens in new tab).

To schedule a consult with Lauren Zimet, MS, CCC/SLP, CNHP, call 404.944.9561.


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