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Food & Health

Picky Eating May Be Linked To Psychological Difficulties

Recent studies have shown that children with severely selective eating habits were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or social anxiety than kids who consumed a wide variety of foods.

Even moderately selective eating was linked to some psychological difficulties. These kids were more likely to have symptoms of depression, anxiety and attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder than children with more varied diets. Parents should recognise that picky eating can have a real psychological impact even in early childhood. So, what can parents do to outsmart their picky eaters? We speak to expert, Dr Chu Hui Ping, Specialist in Paediatrics & Consultant, Raffles Children’s Centre, to get the lowdown.

  1. Is picky eating just a passing phase in the growing up process for children?
    Picky eating is probably a passing phase in most children, as neophobia, which is a natural fear of new foods, is evident in all children. However, if picky eating is not tackled properly and allowed to deteriorate, this can persist well beyond childhood and have serious implications on the physical and mental health of these children.
  2. Why do some children eat more selectively than others?
    Some children exhibit more selectivity and difficulty in feeding due to various reasons. Some of them may follow their parents who are also picky eaters themselves, whether it is due to lack of role model in healthy eating or possible genetic reasons. The more severe cases of picky or selective eaters may have oral sensory aversions which make them extremely fearful of certain textures or consistencies. In addition, the attitudes of parents towards their children’s picky eating behaviour are also important as inappropriate measures such as force-feeding in a desperate attempt to get the child to eat more can easily backfire and cause the child to reject feeding even more so.
  3. How can parents address their children’s varied issues related to selective eating?
    The most important is for the parents to remain calm and responsive to their child’s eating behaviour. They need to learn to recognise the child’s hunger cues, to cultivate good eating habits by being role models in healthy eating themselves and to make mealtimes more enjoyable by allowing them to self-feed independently and be involved in food preparation. In this way, children become less stressed at mealtimes, more interested in food and hence more willing to eat.

  4. When do parents see a paediatrician or psychiatrist for this?
    Even if the picky or selective eating issue is mild for that child, it is still good for the parent to see a primary health provider or preferably a paediatrician, so that the problem can be addressed early and the child’s physical and mental health is not compromised. Of course, if there are certain consequences arising from the selective eating behaviour, such as growth retardation, extreme imbalanced diet causing suboptimal consumption of important nutrients, and certain behavioural changes in the child such as withdrawal, this certainly warrants a review by the paediatrician and if necessary a further formal evaluation by the psychiatrist.

  5. What are some brain foods that can be eaten to boost children’s mental health?
    There are certain important nutrients which may help to boost the mental health of children and adults – omega 3 fatty acids for brain structure (which can be found in salmon and avocados), complex carbohydrates as a steady supply of fuel for the brain (such as whole grains), protein for making of neurotransmitters (from lean meats), and vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin B (found in leafy greens). Eventually, a balanced diet is most essential for the child to sustain healthy physical and mental health.

Is your child a picky eater? Or know anyone whose child has difficulty with food? Share this article with them!