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Picky Eating Linked to Anxiety and Depression in Kids

Mealtimes are fraught with anxiety at my house. The reason? I never know if my son will actually eat what is on his plate. He is the very definition of a picky eater. I know I'm not alone. Getting kids to eat healthy and balanced meals is one of the biggest complaints of most moms I've talked to. So the new study published in Pediatrics is going to add to our stress.

According to researchers, there is a link between a child's eating habits and a risk for anxiety, depression and other psychological issues. Ugh. Just what you needed to hear, right? How this can be true? After all, just about every kid is picky. However, the scientists acknowledge that although pickiness is incredibly common, that commonality doesn't make it a non-issue.

Researchers at Duke University screened over 3,400 kids between 2 and 5 and learned that 20 percent of them were "selective eaters." These children had very few foods they would eat and rarely tried anything new. They were more also more sensitive to textures and smells, and were more easily disgusted by foods. Living with that kind of intensity, suggests researchers, may make it more difficult for them to get a hold of their emotions. An interview assessment determined that the moderate to severe picky eaters were more likely to have anxiety and depression. A follow-up two years later further supported their initial findings.

The first question that pops in my mind is, why? Why is there a link between how our kids eat and their emotional health? Unfortunately, the study was not able to determine causation. But it did urge parents and pediatricians to be more proactive. In fact, the authors suggest swapping the term "picky eater" for "avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder" or ARFID. When we complain about our children's poor eating habits, we often are encouraged to use a wait-and-see approach. The popular thinking is that Johnny will grow out of it or that introducing more flavors to Suzy will open up her appetite. Sadly, the solution may not be that easy. The bottom line: If your child is skipping meals and avoiding entire food groups, the issue may be more complicated than you think.

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