Experts' warning to parents over 'picky eating' kids
Picky eating in small children may be a sign of serious mental problems that should not be ignored, say experts.
Parents and doctors who view food fussiness as a passing phase could be making a grave mistake, a study suggests.
Even "moderate" pickiness was associated with significantly increased levels of depression and anxiety in a population of more than 3,000 children aged two to six.
Those with highly selective eating habits were more than twice as likely as normal eaters to have a diagnosis of depression.
Dr Nancy Zucker, of the Duke Centre for Eating Disorders in the US, said: "The question for many parents and physicians is: when is picky eating truly a problem?
"The children we're talking about are not just misbehaving kids who refuse to eat their broccoli."
The study found that more than a fifth of the children were selective eaters. Of these, nearly 18% were classified as "moderately picky" and about 3% as "severely selective".
Children with both moderate and severely selective eating habits displayed symptoms of anxiety and other mental problems.
Dr Zucker added: "These are children whose eating has become so limited or selective that it's starting to cause problems. It can affect the child's health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes them, and parents can feel blamed.
"Not all children go on to have chronic selective eating in adulthood. But because these children are seeing impairment in health and well-being now, we need to start developing ways to help these parents and doctors know when and how to intervene."