August 12, 2015
1 min read

Selective eating may predict mental health issues in children

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Children who demonstrated selective eating, or “picky eating” behaviors, were at a higher risk for developing mental health issues such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, social anxiety and depression, according to a recent study.

“Children with [selective eating (SE)] at either moderate or severe levels were more likely to have elevated symptoms of anxiety or depression, to experience hypersensitivity to taste and texture to have mothers with elevated anxiety, and to have family conflicts around food,” Nancy Zucker, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, and colleagues wrote. “Both researchers and clinicians need to understand the level of severity at which SE causes impairment, so that practitioners can know when to intervene.”

The researchers compiled a cohort from Duke University pediatric care clinics, consisting of 917 children aged 24 to 71 months. Between 2007 and 2010, in-home assessments were performed involving parents and their participating children, with additional follow-up and laboratory testing.

Study results showed that SE was prevalent in 20.3% of the original cohort, with 17.7% of participants recorded as moderate selective eaters and 3% recorded as severely selective eaters.

The researchers found that children with severe SE were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression (OR = 2.01; 95% CI, 1.2-3.8) or social anxiety (OR = 2.7; 95% CI, 1.3-5.5). Moderate SE was associated with an increase in ADHD symptoms, although severe SE was not associated with these symptoms.

Children with moderate SE behaviors were more likely to have mothers who sought psychiatric treatments, when compared with children with severe SE. Children with moderate SE also had an increased chance that their mothers abused drugs.

The researchers noted that SE can be used as a predictor for later psychopathological issues in children. They also recommended the discontinuation of the terms “selective eating” and “picky eating” in a medical setting. Instead, they suggested a diagnosis of “avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder” for children displaying SE behaviors to more accurately identify and treat children at risk.

“Findings may help health care providers better understand the complex challenges parents face when their child is a selective eater,” Zucker and colleagues wrote. – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial