New York: Parents and caregivers, read this carefully. Researchers have found that not all children grow out of being 'picky eaters' and parents' efforts to change the habit may make it worse.
By age four, children can become established picky eaters, according to findings published in the journal Pediatrics. "Picky eating is common during childhood and parents often hear that their children will eventually 'grow out of it.'
But there's a silver lining for worried parents -- while fussy eaters have a lower body mass index, most are still in the healthy range and not underweight, researchers said. They may also be less likely to be overweight or experience obesity than peers.
"We still want parents to encourage varied diets at young ages, but our study suggests that they can take a less controlling approach," Pesch said.
The study followed 317 mother-child pairs from low-income homes over a four-year period. Families reported on children's eating habits and mothers' behaviours and attitudes about feeding when the children were four, five, six, eight and nine.
Picky eating was stable from preschool to school-age, indicating that any attempts to expand food preferences may need to occur in the toddler or preschool years to be most effective.
The findings showed that high picky eating was associated with lower BMIs and low picky eating was associated with higher BMIs. The pickiest eaters also were often associated with increased pressure to eat and restriction on certain types of foods.
Certain child characteristics, including sex, birth order, and socioeconomic status, also have been associated with persistence of picky eating. "We found that children who were pickier had mothers who reported more restriction of unhealthy foods and sweets," Pesch said.
"These mothers of picky eaters may be trying to shape their children's preferences for more palatable and selective diets to be more healthful. But it may not always have the desired effect," Pesch added.