Aug 04, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell


They are a problem for parents everywhere: children who just won’t eat. Or, if they do eat, they only eat a limited number of foods, only at certain times. For some it is bad enough that every meal becomes a battle for bites, and new research says severe food aversions may be a sign of more significant problems like anxiety, depression, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

These are extreme circumstances,” says Cindy Gellner, MD a pediatrician with University of Utah Health. “These aren’t kids who are just refusing to eat asparagus.

Almost all kids have a period of picky eating early in life. There’s even a term for it: the toddler appetite slump. “When children are first starting on solid foods, they may have strong reactions to tastes and textures,” says Gellner. “However, if extreme fussiness with foods persists after age 6, when the toddler appetite slump should be resolving and kids start broadening their horizons, that’s when we should look at other causes for the picky eating.”

Figuring out those causes starts with talking to your child and their pediatrician. “It may be that your child just has not been properly re-introduced to a food they dislike,” says Gellner. “It can take as many as ten times before they accept a food they encountered negatively.”

In most cases a little detective work and perseverance will pay off. However, in children with mood or sensory issues, it may take a bit more. “You also need to let your pediatrician know if your family has a history of depression or anxiety,” she says. “That will help us identify potential issues early on and address them.”

Of course, in any situation, a kid has to eat. So, once a problem is identified it’s important to work on solutions that ensure proper nutrition is being obtained. “You may want to work with nutritionists, or feeding therapists,” says Gellner. “It’s not about getting them to eat everything. I have several autistic patients who severely limit what foods they eat. The most important thing is finding a way to get them to make eating a pleasurable, non-anxious experience and make sure their nutritional needs are met for growth and development.” 

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