Study looks into whether picky eating habits follow a child into adolescence

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

 ©GettyImages /Esthermm
©GettyImages /Esthermm

Related tags: Food for kids

Do picky eating habits when children are toddlers follow them into their teenage years? And should parents be concerned that their picky eaters aren't getting as many nutrients as their non-picky eater peers?

University of Bristol, UK, researchers examined food questionnaires and records of children in the 'Children of the 90s' study to find out if those identified as picky eaters at 3-years-old had differences in their diet by the time they were aged 10 and again at 13 years old compared to non-picky eaters in the study.

"We know that picky eating is a common behavior in 3-year-olds and is usually resolved by the time children start school. However, very little is known about the diet of picky eaters as they develop into teenagers,"​ said lead researcher of the study, Dr Caroline Taylor from the University of Bristol's Center for Academic Child Health. 

According to the study​, ​children who were picky eaters at the age of three had differences in their diet compared to non-picky eaters at the age of 10. In general, picky eaters at the age of 10 ate less fruit, vegetables, and meat. 

By the time they were 13, there were still differences in their diet, but they were less pronounced, noted researchers. 

Low fruit and vegetable intake across the board

Despite differences in diet and food choices, however, nutritional differences were not drastically different in picky eaters compared to non-picky eaters once they reached 10 and 13 years of age, according to Dr Taylor.

"While we found that there were some differences in nutrition at the ages of 10 and 13, they were not large and are unlikely to have adverse effects on general health and development,"​ Dr Taylor said. 

The study found that all children had adequate protein intakes, but there was a low intake of fruits and vegetables in the diets of the majority of children, even those who were not picky eaters.

"Overall nutrient differences between groups were small and not likely to have any physiological relevance. However, the low fruit and vegetable intake apparent in most of the children is a marker of poor diet quality,"​ noted researchers in the study. 

More nutrition education support for parents

Dr Taylor believes that there should be more support for parents of young children with picky eating to broaden their food choices, particularly increasing intake of fruits and vegetables at a young age so that the behavior continues through adolescence.

"There should be strategies developed for use in pre-school years to support parents as well as the development of tools to help identify children who are likely to become fixed in their picky eating behavior so that extra support can be given,"​ Dr Taylor added. 

We'll be tackling the topic of picky eaters and more at FoodNavigator-USA's FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago on Nov. 18-20, 2019. REGISTER TODAY​!

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