If Your Child Is a Picky Eater Don't Worry

publication date: Aug 22, 2018

Research findings using data from the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study should reassure parents that their fussy toddlers can grow up with a healthy height and weight. In fact, being more relaxed around eating will help your child be less choosy. Picky eating in toddlers is a well-documented phase when children don’t want to try new foods and/or show very strong preferences. It can create much worry for parents, and has created a whole market for advice, guidance and tools to encourage young children to try lots of new tastes and textures.

University of Bristol researchers Dr Caroline Taylor and Dr Pauline Emmett used the Children of the 90s longitudinal study to look at the height, weight and body composition of nearly 300 children between the ages of seven and 17 years who had been found to be picky eaters when they were three years old. The results were compared with 900 children in the same study who were not picky eaters.

In a separate study the same researchers looked at some of the reasons behind fussiness, particularly whether the parents’ concern around the issue contributed towards the development of picky eating behaviour. Instead of being harmed by their diets, the mean height, weight and body mass index (BMI) of picky eaters were consistently above the 50th centiles of reference growth charts, showing that they grew normally. In addition, more than two-thirds of picky eaters were not underweight at any age point.

Overall, the growth of the children who were picky eaters was reassuring. When looking at the reasons behind fussiness with 6000 questionnaires from the Children of the 90s study, researchers found that the late introduction of lumpy foods (after nine months old) and early parental worry about choosiness were contributing factors for children who were very picky eaters at three years old.

Fifty percent of three-year-olds with mothers who were greatly worried about their child’s choosiness at an earlier age were very picky eaters, compared with only 17 per cent if the mothers were more relaxed at the earlier age. Parents eating the same meal together with their children was shown to be protective against picky eating.

Dr Caroline Taylor from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Child Health commented: “Parents should be reassured by our research that the fussy toddler they may be faced with today can grow up with a good healthy weight and height, although a few may have periods of skinniness.Increased worry around feeding can contribute towards young children being pickier about the foods they will accept. “Advice and support for families should include encouraging the introduction of lumpy foods by 9 months, offering new foods regularly but without pressure, and eating with their children as much as possible."