(U.S.) – It can be frustrating when you’re trying to counteract picky eaters at your dinner table, but a recent study suggests being too strict could actually hurt your cause.
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A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics finds tactics some parents use to counteract bad eating habits can backfire. The study, “Trajectories of Picky Eating in Low-Income US Children,” in the June 2020 Pediatrics (published online May 26), finds that picky eating habits start very early, before preschool.
Researchers found efforts to combat the habit such as being demanding about eating or restricting foods were associated with some of the pickiest eaters. Study authors also found a possible benefit of picky eating: strong picky eating was associated with lower body mass (BMI) scores, while low picky eating was associated with higher BMI.
Researchers studied 397 lower-income parent/child pairs in southeastern Michigan, following them over a 5-year period from ages 4 to 9. They examined demographic trends and other influences, including pressure from parents to eat and emotional issues. The study found that race, age, and other demographic information had little impact, but child emotional lability was associated with picky eating.
They found that picky eaters at age 4 often grow into picky eaters at age 9. Any intervention must be implemented very early, according to the researchers, because picky eating is a stable trait. Researchers concluded that because picky eating is not associated with nutritional problems, and may lead to healthier BMI, parents may be reassured if their child is a reluctant eater.
Officials note that more research is needed to examine picky eating over a longer period and to find effective interventions.