According to a new study, preschoolers can already be established picky eaters by age four. And, the more their parents try to control and restrict their diet, the more pickier their children may become. It seems that being too strict with your kids' diet is not the best parenting strategy. One good news is that most young finicky eaters will keep a healthy weight.
"Picky eating is common during childhood and parents often hear that their children will eventually grow out of it. But that's not always the case," says Megan Pesch, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and senior author of this research.
While fussy eaters tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index), most of them are not underweight and remain in the healthy range. They may even be less likely to be overweight or obese than their peers. Overall, high picky eating tends to be correlated to lower BMIs while low picky eating tends to be correlated to higher BMIs.
The researchers discovered that fussy eating habits remain stable from preschool to school-age, meaning that attempts to change food preferences may need to occur very early to be effective. The finickiest eaters generally experience more pressure to eat and more restrictions on certain types of food, but previous research has revealed that pressuring children to eat food they dislike don't necessarily lead to a balanced diet later in life, nor to better health and development.
"We found that children who were pickier had mothers who reported more restriction of unhealthy foods and sweets," Pesch says. "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."
Picture: Girl Eating Porridge, by William Adolphe Bouguereau, Cincinnati Art Museum (Wikimedia Commons, w/Effects)