Study: Most picky eating harmless, but may predict psychological issues in children

For many parents, getting their kids to eat isn't just a food fight, it's an all-out war. But a new study reveals being picky could be a sign of something more serious.

Mom Jennifer Nicholson said her 4-year-old Liam pretty much sticks to hot dogs, chicken nuggets and peanut butter. Broccoli is the only veggie he likes, she said, and no fruit.

"A lot of ways that my friends overcome picky eating habits with kids is to mix something in a smoothie, but he won't even eat a smoothie," Nicholson said.

Now Liam may just be an average picky eater or a little selective with his diet. But according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, severe picky eaters were more likely to exhibit increased symptoms of anxiety, social anxiety and depression.

"They had hypersensitivity to texture and taste," clinical psychologist Dena Rabinowitz said. "They also had a lot of conflict in the home around food."

The study found that selective eating in younger years may even predict psychological issues later on.

"We don't know that picky eating causes psychiatric symptoms, and we want to be careful not to overstate that connection," Rabinowitz said. "But I think it's a good first initial study."

So what can parents do to get their picky eaters to open wide? Experts say parents should consult their pediatrician, but also take new approaches.

"It's important to have fun with it," nutritionist Rachel Beller said. "You can add attractive straws to a smoothie. You can always shape the fruit...adding some spices, it's all going to be part of that positive experience."
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